The economy is officially in a recession and all the easy cuts to education have been made, legislators learned at the Education Policy Task Force session during The Council of State Governments annual meeting Dec. 5. Now it’s time for the more creative approaches. Some states are turning to a four-day school week to save money, and they’re finding out there are academic advantages to the approach as well.
Noelle Ellerson, a policy analyst with the American Association of School Administrators, said a recent survey showed that superintendents have already turned down the thermostats, eliminated nonessential travel, reduced hiring and cut back buying supplies like paper. Those were the easy steps.
“The first steps taken by school superintendents and their boards were nonacademic,” she said. “… But when money gets tight, there’s nowhere else to cut.”
Sims said Minnesota ended up in financial trouble with their schools when former Gov. Jesse Ventura rolled back property taxes that used to fund education and substituted it with a budget surplus the state had. When the surplus dried up, schools found themselves with shrinking budgets.
“Now schools are in big trouble,” Sims said. “…We had to make some changes.”
Each school day—Tuesday through Friday—was lengthened in MCCRAY by 65 minutes. Students are off Monday and the district does teacher in-service training that day. Sims said he estimates the district will save $86,000 this year because of the four-day week by using fewer substitute teachers, lowering transportation costs and lowering energy costs.
“We have kept all of the elective courses (we were looking at cutting),” Sims said. “We kept all of the college-level classes at the high school. We do have improved attendance for the teachers and the staff. … Teachers enjoy the increase in instruction time. Hey, it’s only eight minutes (per class period), but that’s eight minutes you can use for labs or hands-on projects.
Sims said grades are about the same this year as the previous year, if not a little better. Teachers also say they haven’t fallen behind in their lesson plans and may even be a little ahead.
“You go into it for the money,” he said. “After you’ve been in it, you’re going to find out money is second. The education benefits are first.”