JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill that would give school districts the option of holding classes four days a week.
Districts choosing a four-day week could lengthen their school days by an hour and have 32 fewer days of instruction each year. The total number of annual instruction hours would stay the same.
Sponsoring Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, said he has heard from nearly 100 rural districts that are interested in a four-day week because it would save money on transportation and utilities.
"Our traditional calendar, while it's good for most of us, it doesn't quite fit all of our communities," said Kingery, a former school administrator, teacher and coach.
Critics said they were worried a longer school day could hamper a student's ability to learn.
"Students often learn better during those optimal times of the day," said Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, also a former school principal and teacher. "We may be sacrificing student learning in the process."
Based on his experience at a school that doubled the time students spent in kindergarten, Kingery said he was confident students could handle an extra hour every day.
"The children are so resilient," he said. "They took to the all-day kindergarten like a duck to water."
House members voted 98-62 to approve a committee version of the bill and then gave the legislation first-round approval on a voice vote. It still needs another vote to move to the Senate.
Seventy-seven Republicans joined 21 Democrats in voting for the bill. Ten Republicans and 52 Democrats voted against it.
Rep. Joe Aull, a former school superintendent, said he probably wouldn't have implemented a four-day week at one of his districts. But he said it might be a good fit for some rural districts.
Aull, D-Marshall, also noted a provision that requires a district to revert to a five-day calendar if the district gets lower scores on two performance standards in two consecutive years.
Some lawmakers raised concerns that parents who work five days per week would have to pay for child care if a school district adopted a four-day school week.
"You're putting costs back on the taxpayer," said Rep. Ray Salva, D-Sugar Creek, who ultimately voted for the bill. "They just can't afford it. They're having a struggling time right now."
Kingery said most parents would either send their kids to private day care or school districts would create a system in which high school seniors and teachers take care of younger students.
"In every state where this has been implemented, child care has become pretty much of a nonconcern," Kingery said. "People have adapted to it."
Lampe also said that meals at school make up most of the diet for some children.
"We're going to have children very hungry on Monday morning," Lampe said. "I don't think it puts children first and foremost in our decision-making."