Four-day school week has hidden costs
by Zack Avre
Special to Sun Thisweek
With schools across Minnesota feeling an increasing budget pinch, several districts have opted for or considered moving to a four-day school week to save money. The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District made the right choice in declining to pursue this option.
While it’s debatable whether or not schools see a significant savings going to four-day weeks, we know this move winds up costing most parents more in child care costs. Over time, a significant economic and education equity narrative also emerges.
As part of a plan to save $5 million next school year, the district entertained the idea of instating a four-day week model by slashing 17 days from the academic calendar. However, the school district has since dropped the proposal after widespread parent objection.
The accompanying maps highlight that moving to a four-day school week would have cost district families an additional $518.50 to $595 per student annually, with average daily child care costs varying across the district, based on Census and state department of education data. These figures do not take into account existing days off of school for parent-teacher conferences, teacher in-service days, and holidays; in total, the average child care costs for days off exceed $1,200 annually across the district.
These additional costs do not appear unbearable considering the five cities that comprise the district – Burnsville, Eagan and Savage – are all above Minnesota’s median household income for 25- to 44-year-olds, according to estimates from the 2010 American Community Survey. In fact, ACS places Savage’s median household income for 25- to 44-year-olds just shy of $100,000. With such relative prosperity, an additional $500 to $600 doesn’t seem too problematic.
Numbers can be deceiving, though, and when juxtaposed with the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch in 2011, a different picture materializes. Although a suburban school district, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage retains a relatively high level of socioeconomic diversity. As the map shows, six of the 10 elementary schools in the district had rates of free or reduced lunch above the 37.3 percent state average, with four schools over 50 percent free or reduced lunch. A majority of the district’s elementary schools are Title 1 schools, which receive federal aid to support low-income students.
Considering these factors, the costs of moving to a four-day school week for families become more glaring. Creating the need for additional child care will undoubtedly place extra financial burden on families that are already in a crunch.
What’s more, many households in the school district are still facing uncertain economic conditions. As late as April 2012, 1 in 1,116 households in Dakota County and 1 in 491 households in Scott County faced foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac.
With these underlying economic conditions, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District was wise to put its proposal to rest. However, budget crises remain a real issue, and school districts across the state need help. Instead of cutting education funding and forcing school districts to flirt with four-day weeks, policymakers should be investing in schools and their respective communities. When both are healthy, our kids can get back to learning and Minnesota can move forward.
Zack Avre is a Minnesota 2020 undergraduate research fellow. MN2020 is a nonpartisan, progressive think tank focusing on the issues of education, health care, transportation and economic development. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.