There is no conclusive evidence that four-day school weeks save districts money, according to a study by the Oklahoma Department of Education.
The department analyzed expenditures for 16 school districts in the state that started four-day school weeks during the 2011-2012 school year. The study looked at each district’s expenditures from fiscal year 2008-2009 through 2015-2016 in four different areas: utilities, food, transportation, and support staff.
The analysis found that nine of the 16 districts spent more money on average following the change to a four-day school week. Eight of those districts also received less state funding due to a decrease in what the state calls Weighted Average Daily Membership (WADM), a complex metric used to help determine funding. (OKPolicy.org does a good job of explaining it.) The report theorizes that those eight districts may have had more expenditures due to an increase in student numbers apart from any schedule changes.
On average, the remaining seven districts spent less money on a four-day-week schedule. Four had a decrease in WADM, while three had an increase.
The report broke down the average increased expenditures and savings to find that districts spent $8,542 more on support staff and $4,523 more on utilities, while spending $2,714 less on food and $1,971 less on transportation.
Earlier this year, we spoke to a superintendent from Missouri who was a big proponent of the four-day week. He said the biggest savings for his district came from cutting the hours of support staff, so it’s a little surprising that these districts were spending so much more on support staff.
“Some of our best people took a 15 percent pay cut...,” said Chris Fine, the Lathrop (Mo.) Superintendent. “That’s probably the hardest part of the thing. To save that money, most of that money came from support staff pay cuts.”
We also spoke to a researcher who has serious doubts about four-day weeks. His research found the savings to be negligible with great potential for students to be harmed in the long run.
“You can see why taking a bold step to save 20 percent of the budget would justify a serious move,” said Paul Hill, the founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington Bothell. “But a bold step to profoundly change the use of time and cut the number of school days by 20 percent and save 1 percent, that’s a little different story, and I think that’s what people are finding.”
The Associated Press reports four-day weeks are becoming more popular in Oklahoma with at least 44 school districts now considering that schedule or shortening the school year. The AP also reports that 97 districts in the state are currently operating under a four-day week, which is almost double the number from last school year.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.