Bill allows schools to set their hours

Shift to four-day weeks is feared

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina school districts could get creative with school hours under a bill that some legislators fear could usher in a four-day school week.

The measure would change the state's 180-day requirement for classroom time into the equivalent number of hours. Supporters say it gives districts more flexibility. Opponents say it would open the door to four-day school weeks.

The proposal would allow schools to tack some time onto school days, allowing them to shave some days off the school calendar and still meet the required hours students must be in class. It translates to a mandatory 1,170 hours in high school and 1,080 hours in elementary and middle schools.

Schools within a district could operate on separate calendars.

"It's another flexibility tool," the main sponsor, Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said Tuesday. "One size does not fit all -- even within a district."

The preschool owner said she's not advocating a four-day school week, but says local officials should be able to make those decisions. She said she envisions schools adding a half-hour or so to the day to accrue time for longer holidays or midyear breaks.

The House approved the bill 90-3 last Thursday. It requires another vote before heading to the Senate. That perfunctory vote is expected this week.

Rep. Joe Neal said the bill moves South Carolina in the wrong direction.

"We need to ensure all of our children are receiving as much education as we can. We all know children are having trouble as we speak retaining information, particularly over long period of absence," said Neal, D-Hopkins.

Some districts might use the flexibility as a way to cut expenses, for example, by paying for fewer days of bus operations and electricity, said Scott Price with the state School Boards Association.

"We're fine with it as additional flexibility districts may use or not use," he said.

The idea of a four-day school week was bantered about over the past two years as educators tried to cope with state budget cuts amid the Great Recession. Which districts, if any, would pursue the option is unknown.

Neal said the bill takes pressure off of legislators to adequately fund schools.

"It's a cop out," he said.

His objection to the bill prevented it from getting an automatic third reading in the House last Friday, meaning it missed a crossover deadline and likely won't get taken up in the Senate this year.


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