The budget is in crisis, and students are paying the price
Some kids might think a three day weekend every week during the school year is the ultimate dream come true. But in Oklahoma, where a four day school week is reality for many students, it’s actually a glaring example of budgeting and priorities gone horribly wrong. The worst part is that while it’s all the adults fault, it’s the children who are paying the price.
The idea of shortening the school week started in 2009. Oklahoma passed a bill that was designed to help schools handle school cancellations due to snow. The old requirement was that students had to attend school six hours a day for 180 days of the year. The new change allowed schools to meet their educational requirement either with 180 six hour days or by having classes for 1,080 hours a year. This allowed schools to lengthen the school day approximately 45 minutes and only hold classes four days a week.
Thanks to years of tax cuts and a decrease in sales tax revenue, Oklahoma schools are facing a massive budget crisis. Schools have already cut extracurricular classes like music and art. Some schools have even had to charge students to play on school sports teams. And teachers in the state haven’t seen a raise in a very long time. According to the Washington Post, Oklahoma ranked 49th in the country for teacher salaries in 2013. They haven’t raised teachers’ salaries since 2008. Many teachers in Oklahoma make the commute across state lines where they can make more money doing the same job. Reducing the work week from five days to four is seen as a way to entice teachers to stay in Oklahoma. It also allows schools to shut off utilities for the day and save by not having to pay for gas for school buses one day per week.
So some schools are in such a crisis that they are forced to cut corners by reducing the school week. But we are actually cutting even more education spending, and entertaining building a $67 billion wall. Just let that sink in for a minute.
According to a survey by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, of the 513 school districts in Oklahoma, 96 of them have already moved to a four day school week by having no school on either Fridays or Mondays. That’s 96 entire districts with shortened school weeks, not individual schools. Schools in the state adopting a shortened school week are increasing. The number of districts with four day school weeks is currently four times what it was in 2013 and almost triple what it was in 2015.
Tim Tharp, Montana’s deputy state superintendent of education, studied the topic of longer days and shorter weeks for his 2014 University of Montana doctoral dissertation. He found that while the students with a four day school week did better the first year of their new schedule compared to peers with a traditional school schedule, over time the four day a week students didn’t do as well. He believes that while there’s a push in the beginning of a four day program to keep students on track, over time teachers fall behind, perhaps forgetting they need to keep the pace moving if they want to complete their lesson plans. “Old routines are easy to slip back into,” he told the Washington Post.
There’s no question that a four day school week is a huge blow to working parents who rely on a traditional school schedule so that they can go to their jobs. And for students who depend on subsidized school meals, one day less of school each week may mean one more day per week with food insecurity. Superintendent Matthew Riggs of the Macomb school district in Oklahoma actually called upon the school board to reinstate a five day per week school schedule because he was so concerned for the 88 percent of students who qualified for subsidized school meals. Eighty-eight percent.
Thanks to the education budget proposal by the current administration, it’s unlikely that conditions will improve for students in Oklahoma, or any other state, any time soon. Children are supposed to be the future, but if we as a country are unwilling to give them the education they deserve, the future looks bleak.