Almost a third of Missouri schools will be on a four-day weekly schedule this year

Around 161 school districts in the state will be on a four-day schedule in 2023-24 and it's not...
Around 161 school districts in the state will be on a four-day schedule in 2023-24 and it's not just small rural districts anymore.(KY3)
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 7:00 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Going to school four days out of the week instead of five will be the norm for about 98,000 students in Missouri grades K-12 in the 2023-24 school year.

It’s a growing trend across the country.

Nationwide almost 900 school districts in 26 states have shortened their weekly schedules, up from 650 in 2020. In Missouri, around 161 districts will start this year with a four-day week (the official notice from schools isn’t due until October, but that’s a lower-end estimate). That total represents 31 percent of all districts, up from 102 in 2020.

Laclede County R-1, including Conway, is one of several area schools that are newcomers to the list, including mostly small rural districts with a shared motivation.

“Our biggest reason for doing this is recruitment and retention of our teachers,” said Laclede County R-1 Superintendent Luke Boyer during an interview in November of 2022 before he left for Carthage.

Trying to keep teachers from quitting the profession or leaving for higher-paying jobs has become the number one reason schools are making the switch.

And it’s not just rural districts anymore.

This year Independence, a Kansas City-area district with an enrollment of 14,000, becomes the largest school district to go to the shortened week. And even before they started their new schedule, school officials noticed a difference as their number of teacher applicants increased from 91 to more than 500.

“You look at the material the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has put out, and it says that 62 percent of teachers in Missouri leave by their fifth year,” said Independence Superintendent Dale Herl. “But we consistently hear from people who we are now interviewing that the four-day work week is something that really appealed to them, and we can’t think of any other reason that’s led to that increase in applications.”

“When you’ve got four times the number of teachers applying at school districts like Independence when they transition to a four-day week, that’s going to be extremely interesting to a lot of other bigger districts,” said Jon Turner, an associate professor at Missouri State University who has become the go-to person for all things related to the four-day week. “The proof is in the pudding, and every time I talk to a superintendent, they talk about how many more teacher, bus driver, and food service applications they’re getting when they go to a four-day week. It just gives people more flexibility in their lives.”

This is the 14th year the shortened week has been implemented in Missouri, and Turner has been researching and documenting the process. He’s traveled all over the state and country to share information, and school officials from all over the state seek his knowledge in helping to decide whether or not to make the switch.

“Every state west of the Mississippi allows the four-day school week as an option,” Turner pointed out. “But what’s unique about Missouri is that we have such a huge variety of school districts. We’ve got the tiniest districts that have a student population of less than 100, with Springfield being the largest district in the state (at over 24,000). That’s unique compared to the rest of the country in that small communities have been allowed to keep their school districts. But that also means Missouri has a huge range of salaries. Take Christian County, for example. Teachers in Ozark and Nixa who have been there a while maybe making $15-20,000 more than the same teacher just a few miles away working at a small rural district. So that four-day school week offers that smaller district the option to say, ‘Yeah, but can they give you this?’”

But that leads to an interesting question.

What if the bigger districts already offering more money go to the four-day week too?

“If you have so many school districts in a particular geographic area implement this strategy, it’s no longer a recruiting or retention tool,” pointed out Mallory McGowin, the Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“That is true,” Turner responded. “But is it going to make more people want to become a teacher? Or maybe stay in the teaching profession longer? Those are questions we don’t have answers to yet.”

According to state law, students in Missouri must be in class for 1,044 hours a year, but there isn’t a rule about the number of days. However, the state legislature has taken notice of the increase in four-day switches. During the last session, a bill was introduced requiring districts to ask for voter approval before adopting the shortened week.

“As soon as that was introduced, the pushback from smaller school districts who had adopted the four-day week was overwhelming,” Turner explained. “So it never happened. It wasn’t a Democrat-Republican thing but a rural/suburban-urban split. Remember that the decision to go to a four-day school week is made by locally-elected school boards, and over 160 of them have made that decision. In the history of Missouri, we’ve only had one school district that has voted to return to a five-day week. So I think the voters and the parents have spoken. They support local control in allowing their local school boards to make those decisions about whether the four-day school week is something that can be a benefit for their kids. And if they don’t like what the school board does, they can go to the polls and vote them out.”

While the bill never made it through the legislature, there are plans to revisit it with possible changes that would grandfather in districts that have already gone to the 4-day week or only require voter approval in larger school districts.

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