Proposed Missouri bill would add 36 hours to school year

Monday, March 4, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:36 p.m. CST, Monday, March 4, 2013

COLUMBIA — A proposed state House of Representatives bill would add 36 hours to the required calendar year for Missouri public schools. 

Filed by Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedar Creek, the bill would increase the minimum requirement of instructional time for students from 1,044 hours to 1,080 hours. 

Many districts in the state meet the proposed requirement now, Rowland said. The original bill called for a minimum requirement of 1,073 hours, but a House committee substitute bill would change the requirement to 1,080 hours, he said. 

Columbia Public Schools has a 1,089.5-hour year for grades six through 12 and a 1,082.5-hour year for kindergarten through fifth grade, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. There are 174 to 176 days in the school year calendar, depending on the grade level.  

"There would be little impact to the district should the change be implemented," Baumstark said. 

The bill comes after Gov. Jay Nixon proposed in his State of State address last month to lengthen the school year by six days. The six-day increase would have cost Columbia Public Schools $3.5 million, said Linda Quinley, chief financial officer for the district. 

"The addition of hours has little impact on the budget because they can be added in small increments to each school day," Baumstark said. "The addition of contract days or instruction has a significant impact on the budget because we have to pay staff to work on days we don't currently contract with them to work."

Instead of increasing the day requirement, Rowland said, a better option is to base the calendar requirements on hours to provide districts with more flexibility. The increase of 36 hours would equate to five or six days, depending on the district. 

"I’ve been communicating with the governor’s office that the number of hours are more important than days," Rowland said. "It’s all about the actual hours students are engaged in instruction."

Nixon's office is now backing Rowland's proposed bill, said Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state funding to increase the requirement would come from Nixon’s proposed increase of $65.9 million to Missouri's foundation formula, which would be distributed throughout the state’s 520 school districts, Potter said. 

With the additional funding, the formula would still be $620 million short statewide, according to a fiscal summary for education in Nixon's proposed budget.  

While funding the longer school year is an issue, making the requirement based on hours will give local districts the greatest amount of flexibility, said Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. 

The switch from a proposed day requirement to an hour requirement does not come as a surprise, said Susan McClintic, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association. 

"It would have been a financial struggle for the governor to provide that kind of funding to increase the year by six days," McClintic said. "The fact Columbia exceeds the proposed requirement is a testament to our district." 

Other Boone County districts, including Centralia R-VI School District and Sturgeon R-V School District, also exceed 1,080 hours.

John Robertson, superintendent of the Hallsville R-IV School District, said that although he wasn't sure of the exact number of hours the district has, he is confident the proposal would have a minimal effect.

Even with a four-day school week, Harrisburg R-VIII School District had 1,084 hours of instruction time last year, Superintendent Lynn Proctor said. The district would not see a significant difference if the legislation is passed, she said.   

If the bill is passed by both the state House and Senate, it would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year, Rowland said. 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey

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