Thursday, March 19, 2009
Rep. Davis' report offers another move toward vouchers, defense of four-day school week
(The following capital report was sent out today by Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon.)
If we want better outcomes, we need to look at new ideas. HB 242, a bill that has passed the House and is now on the list of bills in the Senate, gives school districts the option to establish a four-day school week. The number of required hours in a school year remains the same, but the bill allows the schools to have more freedom on how they parcel it up.
Educational excellence in Missouri is a top priority, yet excellence can come in many forms. This bill allows school districts to shave at least 20 percent off overhead costs from transportation and heating and reduces the need for substitute teachers. That leaves more funds available for education essentials and allows schools to be more prudent and wise in directing their funds.
A four-day school week could also mean improved attendance rates for both students and teachers. Freeing up one extra weekday allows more time for sporting events, for doctor appointments, and for parents to spend with their children. In addition, the attractiveness of a four-day work week could make staff recruitment easier.
We need to be creative when considering what will benefit the students most. A four-day school week allocates more time to focus on the quality of education. Students who are struggling may be able to use the free weekday for remedial programs, and the teachers willing to help could be paid extra. The extra day could also be used by teachers for professional development and ongoing education.
Currently, 17 states have adopted the four-day-week option and are experiencing a positive effect on attendance and an increase in test scores. A Webster County School District in Kentucky saved more than $150,000 and ranked much higher on state-wide standardized tests: from 111th in 2003 to 53rd in 2007.
Most of the opposition in the debate on this bill sounded like we were discussing a state-run orphanage. Some legislators were concerned that the school children would not get anything to eat if they were not at school. This kind of reasoning bothers me because it presumes that our public schools are little more than glorified day care centers. The purpose of public education must always be education. The parents are the ones who are supposed to be feeding the children. Additionally, I have never heard of a child starving to death because he didn’t attend public school over the three-month recess.
In general, people are fearful of any change. However, part of why I had an easy time supporting this bill is because of the fine example of the Francis Howell School District. Because it worked well to allow Francis Howell to determine its own school-year calendar (even if it meant going year round with a cycle break), I have faith in the school board to make anything work. We give them a gift when we allow them to be self-directed for the benefit of the children of the district. (I have not heard any stories of children starving during cycle break either.)
The success in other states of school districts with four-day school weeks is encouraging. If the final bill passes, I trust our local school boards’ judgment on deciding whether this option would be a good fit for their schools. Ultimately, the school boards are charged with seeing to it that our children are offered the best education possible. If the four-day week doesn’t work out well, the board will have to answer to the parents. The state does not know better than the local school boards. How much less does Congress know about our schools from the remote vantage point of Washington, D.C.?
The second educational bill designed to promote better education options is one that I sponsored, HB 47. I presented this bill before a house committee last week. HB 47 allows parents who choose alternatives to public education for their children to receive a credit off their real estate taxes paid to their local school district. This bill is a quadruple win for everyone:
1. The state wins by being spared between $2,300 and $5,000 average per pupil.
2. The local school district is spared $4,000- $6,000 average per pupil.
3. The family is credited with a small amount that can be less than or equal to the liability owed in local taxation to the school district by providing proof of expenses.
4. Best of all, the student wins because he receives the kind of education best suited for his individual circumstances for that school year.