Critchfield pledges May decision on 4-day school week minimum days

The State Board of Education plans to set minimum instructional and contract days for school districts receiving facilities funding by mid-May, according to State Superintendent Debbie Critchfield. 

Critchfield, a member of the State Board, said Tuesday that the panel expects to set those minimums earlier than what’s outlined in House Bill 521, the sweeping facilities plan that would send $2 billion to school districts over the next decade. 

The bill — which is awaiting approval in the Senate before it goes to the governor — would bar districts that accept the funds from having four-day weeks unless they meet a minimum number of work days for teachers and instructional days for students. HB 521 directs the State Board to set those minimums by Aug. 1.

“We’re on a speedier timeline, recognizing that school districts are coming upon the season to set their own calendars,” Critchfield, a Republican, told the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. “This is the signal that we’re giving our districts so that they know answers will come to them prior to the end of summer.”

Critchfield didn’t hint at what the minimums could be. The earliest the State Board could meet, outside of a special meeting, is next month, which should coincide with the end of the legislative session, she said. 

The four-day school week provision is among the more controversial details in the mish-mash tax relief and school facility funding bill. More than 40% of districts have moved to four-day weeks, a strategy for attracting and retaining teachers and saving money, according to the Idaho School Boards Association. 

If the minimums are high, it would impact Shelley School District’s four-day calendar “immensely,” Superintendent Chad Williams told Idaho Education News. “It depends on where that number is.” 

And more districts are considering moving to four-day weeks, but HB 521 has caused a wrinkle. Talks in the Nampa School District have been delayed, according to Superintendent Gregg Russell. The district still plans to survey patrons and could move forward once the minimum days come into focus. 

“We can’t make a decision that’s going to negatively impact the finances of our district and not be able to access money for our buildings,” Russell told EdNews. “We don’t want to be penalized if our community feels (a four-day week) is best for us.”

Meanwhile, the state’s message has been that districts should have good reason to move to four-day weeks. 

Currently, the Department of Education only mandates minimum hours, ranging from 450 for kindergarten to 979 for high school seniors. Quinn Perry, deputy director for the Idaho School Boards Association, told lawmakers this week that some districts on four-day weeks go beyond that minimum. “They’re all getting the same amount of education. Some might be going longer days, just less days per week.”

But some GOP lawmakers have said the facilities funding should incentivize districts to keep students in school as much as possible. “When we’re going to be building schools, as part of this package, we want kids in the school,” House Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said during a hearing on HB 521 last month. 

In January, Critchfield sent a guidance letter to school leaders explaining her stance on four-day weeks, noting that the state supports local control but she’d been asked to share her thoughts. 

The letter recommended starting and ending a conversation about a four-day week with “What is best for our students?” It also included a lengthy list of “key considerations,” from state-mandated minimum instructional hours to the effectiveness of professional learning communities. 

Critchfield said she does not support a four-day week if: 

  • It’s a “money-saving move,”
  • District patrons are not willing to go longer into the school year or have longer school days, 
  • Or because staff are asking for it.

“Whether it’s four or five days of learning, your students deserve — and we expect them to have access to — the same high levels of learning,” Critchfield wrote. 

To read the full guidance letter, click here

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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