Dozens of districts adopted four-day weeks to save money
Legislation waiting to be heard by a House committee would permit four-day weeks if school districts can prove the schedule is working for students.
Senate Bill 441 would require districts to fulfill 180 days of classroom instruction or 1,080 hours of instruction with a minimum of 165 days in the classroom. A third option would require districts to fulfill 1,080 hours of instruction with no minimum number of classroom days, provided they meet school-performance and cost-saving guidelines to be established by the state Education Department.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she supports the bill because of the flexibility it gives local districts to decide for themselves.
"When the bill was first introduced it did not have the flexibility that this bill does now," Hofmeister said during Thursday's state Board of Education meeting in Oklahoma City. "We believe that amendment provides the kind of balance that’s needed to give districts flexibility, but also balances the need for a checkpoint for our most vulnerable learners … our students in special education, English learners."
In recent years, school districts across the state have adopted four-day-a-week calendars to save money and recruit teachers. Most four-day districts are in rural communities, especially near the border where teachers can find a higher paying job in the neighboring state.Ninety-two school districts have four-day weeks, including Noble Public Schools, a 2,900-student district that switched to a four-day week in 2015 as a way to save money without cutting personnel or programs.
Superintendent Frank Solomon said the switch resulted in improved student engagement and fewer attendance and discipline issues.
"We're maintaining a highly qualified teaching staff, our academics are not suffering, and we're saving some money," he told The Oklahoman.
Hugo Public Schools in southeast Oklahoma moved to a four-day schedule two years ago to recruit teachers, especially as neighboring districts had already made the switch, according to Superintendent Earl Dalke.
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Dalke said requiring all districts to have five-day weeks would take away the in-state competition.
"Unless the state mandates the change, it is unlikely we will return to a five-day week," he said.
Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, a former teacher, said some districts are using the practice to "draw in staff," which could result in a "lowering of standards."
"They're offering a job that’s easier and the kids could suffer from that," he said. "Maybe they're not getting the rigor they deserve in a shortened school year. We wouldn't be having this conversation if we properly funded schools."
Senate Republicans want to end the practice of four-day school weeks. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, has said four-day weeks have damaged Oklahoma's reputation nationally and hampered the state's ability to recruit new employees and jobs.
With SB 441, districts would have to prove they're saving money and not harming academic achievement.
State Board of Education member Lee Baxter said the decision should be left up to the local school board.
"I don’t have a problem with a four-day week if the local board is convinced that there are advantages for their district that are greater than having a five-day week, and there is some evidence that that’s the case in some districts," Baxter said Thursday. "Maybe we should be more worried about outcomes than time spent. So if they’re getting the outcomes in four days that they would get in five, four is certainly a more economical way to educate. The proof is whether or not those outcomes are the same."