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Four Day School Week Part One: It's About Money, Not Students

April 22, 2009 By Kyle Edwards, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Part 1 of 2 (read part 2)

As the economy has deteriorated, Minnesota's school districts have been forced to reduce their budgets and look for creative ways to educate the current students and future leaders of Minnesota. One option used is a switch to a four day school week. This is a manifestation of education decisions being based solely on the bottom line. Student achievement is no longer driving education policy.

The MACCRAY school district, made up of three small towns about three hours west of the Twin Cities, is the only school district to have implemented the new schedule in Minnesota so far. However, as education funding from the state of Minnesota has become scarce many other districts have contemplated the switch, such as Forest Lake, or approved it, as the Blackduck school district recently did.

What forced Minnesota's public schools into choosing between cutting teachers and cutting a school day? What are the effects of No Child Left Behind, the dominant federally mandated education program? The possible pitfalls seem numerous, so how are the teachers, administrators, and students reacting to being short-changed? The Minnesota Senate, which is controlled by those professing a progressive policy view, recently passed a budget for the upcoming biennium cutting funding for public education by $453 million. So what's next for the schools that have already cut back to a four day week?

Both the educators in MACCRAY and Rob Rapheal, a Forest Lake School Board member, expressly stated that when considering the switch to a four day school week, the bottom line was paramount.

Rapheal said, "It was strictly from the point of view of the budget."

Gary Sims, the principal of MACCRAY Senior High School added, "It was this, or teachers and electives would be cut."

It is important now to examine how past policy decisions at the state level forced the hand of school boards to consider and approve schedule changes. First, between 1993 and 2005, per pupil funding increased 1.14% while, on average, expenditures in school districts grew by 5%. In 2001, the state accepted responsibility for funding 85% of the public school budget, while promising voters would only be asked to raise their property taxes for "extras." In Farmington, a 2007 referendum, allowed the district to proceed with opening its newly built high school, hire staff for an elementary school, and maintain current programs and staffing levels. That is a loose definition of extras.

Now, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's "no new taxes" pledge, the education mantra has become accomplish more, get less. Requirements for public schools grew as conservative Minnesota politicians destabilized education's revenue source. The most obvious example of growing expectations is the federally unfunded mandate that came with No Child Left Behind. Now, as teachers are getting cut around the state, those that remain face their former duties, overflowing classrooms, federal testing standards, and special education requirements.


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