The four-day schedule is not an entirely novel idea—first used in the 1930s, the system gained popularity in the 1970s as surging oil prices drove districts to seek alternative solutions to cut their growing transportation budgets. More recently, shifts in the definition of instructional time by many states toward instructional hours rather than instructional days has opened the door to the resurgence of the four-day week. This change grants districts the flexibility to implement a calendar with fewer, longer school days, generally adding about 45 minutes on to the end of the school day.
In the wake of the Great Recession, states continue to make deep cuts to education budgets, leaving already struggling communities to find innovative solutions. Today, about 150 districts in 21 states have adopted the calendar. A potential cost saver like the four-day week can be appealing under tight budgetary circumstances, but how much money does a four-day week really save? Does the four-day week hold up as a viable option for districts struggling with tight budgets?
Proponents of the four-day school week foresee significant savings, particularly in the areas of transportation, food service, and building operations. By eliminating these costs from one whole day of the usual five-day school week, districts predict a 20% savings in each area. However, each of these areas individually makes up a relatively small portion of a district’s overall budget. Cutting transportation completely for one day of the week, a commonly indicated source of potential savings in rural districts, leads to only a 0.85% savings to the overall budget.
The largest portion of the budget (approximately 60.82% on average) is dedicated to instruction, primarily made up of teacher salaries and benefits, which are not affected by a move to a four-day schedule. Despite the initial inclination of many proponents, teachers continue to provide the same number of instructional hours and thus receive the same salary and benefits. The largest portion of the budget, then, is not impacted by a shift to a four-day week.
In fact, estimates suggest that a four-day week brings a maximum potential savings of only about 5.43% to the overall district budget. Most districts that have already made the shift have seen much lower savings. A study out of Oklahoma, a state that has been making national headlines for its controversial use of the four-day week, recently found no evidence that districts that switched saved money at all.
While budgetary considerations have been the primary driver of the four-day week’s recent spike in popularity, these suggested savings appear to be unfounded. Despite these limited savings, districts continue to shift to a four-day schedule. What impact might this change have on students and staff? What considerations must districts weigh before making the change? Next week, we will examine the potential academic effects of changing to a four-day week.