Texas lawmaker backs four-day school week

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on April 13, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 13 at 8:25 PM

Poll:
Would you support a four-day school week if it saved teachers' jobs?

Teachers, arts programs, and pre-kindergarten staffing have all suffered under budget cuts necessitated by drastic reductions in state funding.

Now, one Texas legislator has a controversial idea to save money. He would do it by giving districts the option of a four-day school week.

House bill 1326, introduced by Rep. Ryan Guillen, would let districts implement the shorter week by adding about 90 minutes of class time to each day. Districts could also choose to shorten the school calendar year by increased class hours.

A spokesman for Rep. Guillen said he pursued the bill after Rio Grande City CISD expressed an interest in the option.

Supporters of the bill include the Texas Association of Schools, the South Texas Association of Schools, the Texas Rural Education Association, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the Texas Association of School Administrators.

"We don't anticipate that many districts would take advantage of this because it wouldn't be a good fit for many areas because of childcare and other issues it might raise for working parents," said TASA spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo. "However, if a community feels it works for them, it should be up to a locally elected school board to make that decision."

Texans For a Traditional School Calendar registered opposition to the bill.

A teacher's union, the United Educators Association of Texas, is still researching the proposed legislation. "We think it would be very exciting to try in some schools," said UEAT executive director Larry Shaw.

"With massive cuts to education funding in our state looming, more should be done to offer flexibility to our school districts so that they can save money and the jobs of educators," Rep. Guillen said.

Across the nation, the concept of a four-day school week is being pitched from Florida to Georgia to Nevada by school boards desperate to ease the pain of budget cuts.

"Maybe 100-plus districts across the country have explored it," said Dr. David Chard, Dean of SMU's Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

There are successful examples of the four-day school week. Limon, Colorado has been on a Monday-Thursday schedule for several years. The superintendent tells News 8 test scores are up, teachers are fresher and more energetic during lessons, and costs are down anywhere from ten to 15 percent.

"Conceivably you could spend four days of really effective teaching and learning that could easily be as effective as five days," Chard said.

Both Chard and Shaw, however, point to potential problems, including childcare issues faced by working parents, juvenile delinquency, and the challenge of helping teachers restructure class time.

"I don't think we know enough about whether this is a wise thing to do," Chard said, adding that reports and studies currently available are inconclusive, and scientifically difficult to conduct.

In Gore, Oklahoma, two hours east of Oklahoma City, the district saved about $27,000 out of a $4 million budget by going to a shorter school week. A year later, the district reverted back to a traditional Monday-Friday schedule.

The superintendent said, in the end, it just wasn't worth it.

HB 1326 is pending in the Public Education Committee.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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