Illinois Schools May Be Going To A 4 Day School Week, Huh?

Lawmakers across Illinois have mixed reviews on a legislative proposal allowing local school districts to move to a four-day school week.

Although the Illinois House on Monday passed the measure 81-21, the initiative still faces hurdles even if the Senate approves it. Local school districts would be required to hold public hearings on the issue, and would still have to teach the same total number of hours per year. That most likely would translate into longer school days or shorter summer vacations.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, has said that 19 states already allow shortened school weeks.

Some lawmakers don't like the idea, saying it would put in peril education standards and leave many students academically behind. Meanwhile, other lawmakers favor the shortened week, saying it would save money in utility and transportation costs.

State Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D- Rockford, said a shortened school week is a poor idea since students will suffer academically with one less day a week to learn.

“Today, we know that grades are terrible in some cases and the attendance is terrible in some cases,” Jefferson said. “At what point are you going to be able to learn everything? You need to learn in order to be able to go out in society and compete for the jobs that are out there.”

If the legislation passes, state Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, said he doubts many school districts will lobby the public to make the change.

“[School districts] have to have lots of meeting and lots of things going on at local school districts,” Reis said. “Even if this bill becomes law, I don’t see school districts rushing to adopt this.”

A key element of the debate boils down to cost and geography. Buses in rural school districts tend to cover more miles than their urban counterparts, ratcheting up diesel fuel costs.
State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said that viewpoint would gain more attention in rural districts than in suburban and urban districts.

“Downstate schools have a significant transportation cost, where some of the suburban schools may not have as much of a transportation cost; so downstate may be more interested in this than the suburbs,” Pritchard said.

State Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, agrees, noting an extra day off in an urban district may give some older students more time to get into trouble.

“I think it would perhaps serve smaller, more rural districts than an urban district,” Smith said. “Peoria District 150 might find it harder to go to a four-day week to have all their students out on the street on a Friday or Monday.”

However, state Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Liberty, said the option should lie solely with school districts, parents and local communities. And what to do with the students on the weekday they would get off? That's a question that should be decided at the local level, not the legislative level, she said.

“We’re not childcare givers, we’re educators in the public education sector,” Tracy said. “Certainly, we don’t want to hurt working families, but again, you bring it to local control, get parental input and see what works best for that particular district.”

The legislation now heads to the state Senate, where Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he'd vote for a four-day school week because it would benefit both the districts and the students.

“I think there are great benefits to kids learning at home,” Jacobs said. “Not everything has to be learned in a formal setting. I think you could probably teach a kid everything you could teach in a four-day week as opposed to a five-day week.”

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