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Bill to curb 4-day school weeks sent to Oklahoma governor

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A crowd gathers outside during a Noble Public Schools School Board meeting to decide Noble Schools Superintendent Ronda Bass' employment status in Noble, Okla., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Bass came under fire for under fire for her alleged inappropriate enforcement of the school's dress code. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
A crowd gathers outside during a Noble Public Schools School Board meeting to decide Noble Schools Superintendent Ronda Bass' employment status in Noble, Okla., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Bass came under fire for under fire for her alleged inappropriate enforcement of the school's dress code. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma House gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill that would make it harder for school districts to operate on four-day weeks.

The House passed legislation setting a minimum number of days schools have to be in session, making it harder for schools to operate on four-day weeks — a cost savings and teacher recruitment measure many small and rural school districts have implemented in recent years.

The bill now heads to Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The final version of Senate Bill 441 replaces the current option for school districts to be in session for 1,080 hours each year and instead requires schools to be in session for a minimum of 165 school days, 158 of which must be instructional days.

Districts seeking an exemption would have to apply for a waiver from the state. The waiver would exempt districts from the minimum school day requirement for three years.

The House voted 63-32 to advance SB 441. After nearly an hour of questions on the bill, the Republican majority in the chamber voted to forego debate and move the bill forward.

House legislators extensively debated a similar version of the bill earlier this session.

Democrats asked questions ranging from the effect the measure would have on rural school districts, how the waivers would work and criticized the measure for taking local control of schools away from school districts.

Rep. Jacob Rosencrants, D-Norman, a former teacher, said polling has shown parents of students who attend Noble Public Schools, which has four-day weeks, prefer the new schedule.

Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, argued that some school districts turned to shorter weeks in order to keep their teachers from quitting.

“What am I to tell teachers who have made arrangements with schools knowing they would have four-day weeks?” he said. “What am I supposed to tell them when we say the state Department of Education’s going to promulgate rules that might change the basic social contract under which they’re working?”

Under SB 441, districts could hold 1,080 hours of instructional time with no minimum amount of school days, but would have to meet minimum performance standards in academics and cost savings set by the Department of Education.

If signed into law, the bill would not go into effect until the 2021-2022 school year.

The Department of Education would have nearly a year to develop the performance standards, which would have to be approved by a majority of the Legislature next year.

Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, who presented the final version of SB 441 on the House floor, said the Legislature would be hesitant to approve rigid schools standards that do not take into account some districts’ unique circumstances.

“If the rules are not correct, we’re not going to accept them,” Pfeiffer said. “There’s no way, with as many rural members as we have in the House of Representatives, that we’re going to approve a set of rules that is going to screw over a vast majority of four-day school weeks in rural Oklahoma.”

If the four-day week schools are successful and their students are successful, then those districts are likely to be granted a waiver, Pfeiffer said.

Four-day school weeks became possible a decade ago when the Legislature changed state law to measure school years by hours instead of days. The change allowed districts to have longer school days and shorter weeks.

Four-day school weeks were a result of unintended consequences from the Legislature’s actions, Pfeiffer said. Lawmakers, who changed the law because severe weather one year put schools in danger of finishing in June, likely never anticipated districts shortening their school weeks, he said.

Nearly 100 of Oklahoma’s 525 school districts currently operate on four-day school weeks.

SB 441 was a top priority for Senate Republicans, who feel the four-day school weeks tarnish the state’s reputation and diminish students’ education. State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also opposes shorter school weeks.

For a brief period in the legislative process, teacher pay raises were contingent upon longer school weeks. The two issues are no longer intertwined.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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