Ill. House approves 4-day school weeks

March 23, 2010 5:14:31 PM PDT
On Monday, the Illinois House passed a bill that would allow some schools to have a four-day school week. Students would be in class the same number of hours but have longer days or shorter summer breaks. It could save money on building costs, utilities and fuel for busses.

The measure was approved by an 81-21 vote.

In Chicago there is no political or parental support for a four-day week in the state's largest school district no matter how much money such a move might save.

The morning after the Illinois House vote, Mayor Richard Daley conducted a previously scheduled visit to the Nash Elementary School on the West Side. The mayor absolutely opposes a four-day school week.

"You cannot allow children to have another day off. You talk to any parent and that's the easy way out. There's no easy way out of this problem," said Daley. "The free time makes them vulnerable to threats of gangs, guns and drug dealers. It means we have to redouble all of our efforts to keep our children out of harm's way."

The overwhelming Illinois House vote Monday was aimed at helping cash-strapped rural districts in save money on fuel for transportation and on building heating and lighting.

Dr. Tresa Dunbar, principal of Nash, says four longer classroom days each week might have an adverse affect on learning.

"When you cut one school day, you're increasing the rest of the days. So what will we be asking students to do? Woud we asking them to be in school eight hours, would it be 10 hours?" said Dr. Dunbar.

The proposal for a four-day school week comes as a growing number of Illinois districts announce teacher layoffs and program cuts to make up for state funding delays and proposed drastic education cuts.

In Chicago, where the 2011 public school deficit is projected near $1 billion, students ABC7 talked to had mixed reaction to such a change that would mean longer days when they are in class.

"Having four-day school days means more sleep for us and we're always tired, so that would be great," said Marina Vekovic, Jones College Prep.

"I think it's a horrible idea. Already people Thailand are smarter than us in math. I think America isn't doing well in education," said Holly Davis, Jones Prep student.

"Having the extra day would be great. If they added a few hours to a school day, I wouldn't mind it at all," said George Orozco, Jones College Prep.

Working parents interviewed were unanimously opposed.

"This basically is a part of child care being able to bring your kid to school and a four-day school week I don't think it would be a good deal," said Maurice Coleman, parent.

"That will hurt a working parent like me. Before, I had to worry about three days. Now, I have to worry about three days a week," said Holly Davis, Jones College Prep.

"All it does is readjust the financial burden to the families," said Paula Martinez, parent, South Loop Elementary.

Police Superintendent Weis says while a four-day week would free officers assigned to school duty, kids without anything to do for another day each week could mean trouble.

"Teenagers, oftentimes, if they're not in a structured environment, they don't have any activity to go to, sometimes they can be led astray," said Weis.

A Chicago Teachers Union representative released a statement saying that based on national research, children have a limited ability to be in the class a certain amount of time. Their attention span will stop, the day will be too long. The spokesperson says the bill is just a Band-Aid to fix school funding.

A Chicago Public Schools spokesman said CPS was not currently considering the four-day weeks.

The House bill is supported by many downstate lawmakers who say that rural school districts could save lots of money fuel for busses and and utilities in their classroom buildings.