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Debate heats up over the impact of 4-day school week on kids, schools

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In the face of a major budget crisis many Oklahoma school districts are looking at drastic changes.

Right now schools across the state are making the switch to a four-day school week, or considering it. Each day parents send their kids to school, trusting they'll receive a quality education.

"Our children are our investment in the future in our state," said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

In 2016 in Oklahoma, many educators are not only struggling to provide a quality education, but to even keep their doors open.

"Right now we are hearing a variety of districts having hard conversations with their parents and teachers," said Hofmeister.

School districts are facing huge, and what many are calling disastrous state budget cuts; forcing many administrators to get creative when it comes to savings.

"The morale here with the teachers and students is huge especially in the time with the economic crisis we're having now," said Cement Principal Steve Pelzer.

One move that's sweeping the state is the 4-day-school week. Cement Schools southwest of Oklahoma City made the transition at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

"Kids, parents love it. When their kids off that Friday they're able to do something a little different than they're normally able to do," said Pelzer.

The school day in Cement now lasts a little longer, in order to meet state required classroom time.

Pre-K through 12 Principal Steve Pelzer says the move not only saved money, but also attracted more teachers, which is usually a challenge.

"Attendance is up, morale is up, my kids seemed more focused in everything that they're doing, they're working hard," said Lisa Kinder, 6th Grade Teacher in Cement.

Cement teachers and administrators say their kids' education isn't suffering.

"We took our practice E-O-I and our scores were in the B+ at elementary and C+ range at the high school so that actually improved," said Pelzer.

A report published in the Journal of Education, Finance and Policy in September showed test scores could actually improve. Researchers found math scores went up 2 years after switching to a 4 day week, and reading scores stayed the same.

A number of educators including State Superintendent Joy Hofmeiser are not convinced. She says she's worried that fewer days in the classroom and long weekends could set students back.

"Having added time in a day does not actually mean that you will have increased learning opportunities or that you will be able achieve the same," said Hofmeister.

Another concern of the shorter week; kids who are fed in school might go hungry. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute more than 6 in 10 Oklahoma kids qualify for free of reduced lunches, and many receive breakfast too.

Hofmeister is hoping legislators will come up with funding for education quickly, to keep test scores improving and kids in the classroom 5 days a week.

"We cannot jeopardize growth that's occurred and we need to do everything we can to cushion the impact to students," said Hofmeister.

For now teachers and families in Cement say it works for them, and until there's a major overhaul in the system, they have no plans for change.

"I absolutely think it's been just a positive, positive thing in our community anyway. We've had no parents' upset, it's just worked for us," said Kinder.

More than 100 schools are currently considering the 4-day school week according to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.

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