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Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share

The GOP's anti-tax attitude and budget cuts mean some states are closing schools on Fridays, leaving parents, workers and students in the lurch.

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Many districts that have the shortened schedule say they've seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say that not only did they not save a substantial amount of money by being off an extra day, they also saw students struggle because they weren't in class enough and didn't have enough contact with teachers.

The best conclusion that could be drawn from the small amount of research and reporting that's been done on the matter is this: pedagogically, there's no formula and each school and population will see different results from the shortened week. So the real question remains,  why are schools even pushed to make this choice?

Regardless of what works academically for each school, the idea that many are being forced to shut down because of budget constraints is disturbing to say the least--and that's indeed the case for many of these schools, as the WSJ article notes:

Some schools, meanwhile, say they are turning to the four-day schedule as a last resort. In North Branch, Minn., school Superintendent Deb Henton said her 3,500-student district, facing a $1.3 million deficit, is simply out of options. 

"We've repeatedly asked our residents to pay higher taxes, cut some of our staff, and we may even close one of our schools," she said. "What else can you really do?" Despite a "lot of opposition" from parents, she said, the district is set to adopt a four-day week for next school year.

Indeed, one of the groups hardest hit is working parents, who have to scramble for childcare on the extra day, an extra-tough task during the recession when many may need the time to work or look for work.

Another group hit hard? Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff and others whose smaller work-weeks may in fact be the main reason districts "save" money on the four-day week: they're gaining extra pockets in their budgets by cutting these staff members salaries by up to a fifth. This is hardly a rejuvenating measure, and combined with the hit to parents this loss of employment could certainly put a dent in small communities' financial well-being.

And presumably, for the day off to actually help schools academically, the facilities would still be open on the fifth day. If bus drivers and other staffers aren't around that fifth day because of budget cuts, then how can students get to school for extra help, or activities? It completely undercuts the point.

This lost day is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to school budget cuts. But it underscores quite drastically the way budget cuts are decimating schools' ability to make choices that will best help students; instead, they're left playing defense. Texas, which has many districts with the four-day policy, is a particularly egregious example of the toll budget cuts have taken on education.

A local columnist explained how the 2011-'12 school year is going to begin for young Texans: 

The massive cuts to public education approved last spring in Austin also will have long-lasting and devastating consequences for the children of our state. CPPP estimates that Texas schools must manage cuts, on average, of nearly $1,000 per student just when the needs of our students are increasing. Although earlier this month HISD restored some funding to schools that had been previously cut, the severity of the reductions mandated by the Legislature won't come to fruition for another year or longer. It is clear that dark times are ahead for the hard-working employees and families of Texas schools.

Paul Krugman made a similar point earlier this year when addressing Texas budget cuts, noting that the right-wing push to de-fund schools and hurt children will result in economic pain in the future: "The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?"

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