Why are Texas school districts adopting the four-day week?

Austin (KXAN) —The lingering effects of the pandemic have caused many Texas school districts to struggle with attendance rates and funding, leading many to adopt a four-day school week model to help.

In Texas, there are currently 83 districts that have approved a four-day school week, affecting almost 96,000 students, according to a KXAN analysis. Lometa ISD, about 100 miles north of Austin, is one of the districts that adopted a four-day school week, and Superintendent Rob Moore said it is already helping.

“We are currently at about 96% attendance, which would be slightly improved from the most recent years,” said Moore. “We have shown a marked increase in student enrollment since beginning the four-day week.”

83 Texas school districts have moved to four-day weeks, affecting almost 96,000 students

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2610, striking the required 180 days of instruction and instead requiring districts and charter schools to operate for a minimum of 75,600 minutes — allowing districts to adopt a four-day school week. Lometa ISD chose a Tuesday-Friday school week with Monday as their “optional day.”

“Lometa ISD has provided programming, snacks, and lunch on each optional day for students in PK-5 as well as periodic tutorials for students in all grades who need extra help,” said Moore. The optional day has “provided teachers with increased planning time and the opportunity to attend staff development, ” with most Lometa staff reporting significant improvements in mental health.

‘Opportunities outweigh the challenges’

David DeMatthews, an associate professor at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, said there may be some benefits to giving teachers a four-day school week, such as keeping them on the job a bit longer and providing flexibility.

With a record number of teachers leaving during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a KXAN investigation, districts like Rockdale ISD cite quality teacher recruitment and retention as one of the driving reasons for a four-day school week. The four-day school week offers a competitive advantage in the hiring market.

“The opportunities outweigh the challenges when it comes to being a teacher in Texas,” said DeMatthews.

The Lawmakers were unable to pass legislation, like House Bill 100, to help districts balance budgets and increase teacher’s salaries, so “superintendents and school boards are forced to do the best they can with the limited resources they have,” DeMatthews said.

School districts adopting a four-day week “should be a red flag to every Texan, every parent, that this is a problem,” DeMatthews said.

DeMatthews said four-day school weeks tend to pop up when there are fiscal cuts, which the pandemic has now exacerbated.

As of 2023, Texas ranks 42nd in per-student spending — falling $4,000 short of the national average, according to an Education Week Research Center analysis, with many schools facing budget deficits due to a lack of legislative funding increases.

Since Texas bases district funding on average daily attendance, some districts are looking to the four-day school week model to help.

In a presentation from Decatur ISD, many school districts reported their results implementing the four-day week. Mineral Wells ISD, 200 miles north of Austin, reported savings in substitute teachers, electricity, and other operational costs. They also reported an initial uptick in student attendance. Hull-Daisetta ISD, 200 miles east of Austin, reported 2-5% overall savings. Gainesville ISD, 250 miles north of Austin, reported improved attendance rates and higher enrollment numbers. They also reported fewer operational costs and stated teacher morale is at an all-time high.

DeMatthews said he’s concerned there isn’t enough evidence of the outcomes of a four-day school week, yet the reform is being rolled out in low-income rural communities.

“Districts feel like they have to do this despite the evidence, and that is really concerning,” he said.

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