When Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced in January that he would propose increasing the school calendar by six additional days of instruction, the news was met with both skepticism and support.
On one side, many felt more days of instruction would be a good thing for Missouri students, and by other accounts, some felt the ends of financial burden placed on school districts during those extra days wouldn’t justify the means despite Nixon’s proposal to increase state funding as well.
“The (state-funding) formula is about eight percent under funded now, which is probably around $500 or $600 million and he’s proposing to put about $66 million new dollars into the foundation formula,” said David McGehee, superintendent for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. “By the time you spread that out to the districts that’s not really going to make that much of a difference. I don’t see his proposal making a significant difference. It certainly isn’t going to cover the cost.”
In his State of the State speech Jan. 28, Nixon said he would increase the budget for education by $150 million, with an increase of $17 million for early education and a $100 million increase for K-12 classrooms. Nixon also set aside $34 million more for higher education.
The governor detailed his priorities during the address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly to which he also presented his recommended budget for fiscal year 2014.
Nixon’s hope is that the increased funding for K-12 classrooms will help to train more teachers, modernize classrooms and extend Missouri’s school year. Missouri’s school year is currently only 174 days – the fourth-shortest school year in the country.
“I think initial reaction would be there’s a lot of merit to extending the school year here in Missouri,” said Brent Ghan, a spokesperson for the Missouri School Board Association. “We have one of the shortest minimum school years in the country. There’s a lot of research to back up that additional instruction time will pay off for students in the long run. But, it always comes down to cost and it would certainly be some additional cost for extending the school year. I think that would be the major concern school boards would have, not opposition to lengthening the school year because there is a lot of merit to doing that. Simply, how are we going to pay for that?
“We are already under funding our public schools in Missouri to a tune of about $600 million right now compared to where they should be. So, we still have some considerable ground to make up as far as our school funding is concerned. It’s a positive idea, and I think a lot of school boards would welcome that.”
Under Nixon’s proposal, Missouri’s school year will be extended to the national average of at least 180 days. As it stands today, the R-7 district would have to add an additional eight days to its academic calendar because they are currently at 172 days of classroom instruction.
“It would add eight instructional days in our district,” McGehee said. “A few years back the statues changed and the Legislature gave districts a little more flexibility to go fewer days as long as they went a certain amount of hours. We and other districts have taken advantage of that to try to get all the professional development training and various things into our teachers’ work schedules.”
The cost of those additional days could extend well over $2 million, McGehee estimated.
“Even though we haven’t put the pencil to the paper and really dug in to look at what the exact cost of eight more days of school operations would be, it’s going to be $2.5 million or more in annual expenditures for our district to add that many days of school.
“Our teachers are under contract for so many days. We hardly have enough time now built in to their contract (for professional development days). We can’t take away any more of those days and make them instructional days, so we’d be adding a straight eight additional days. That’s eight more days of transportation, eight more days of food service, that’s eight more days of salary for all the folks that we need in order to operate a school day. Folks aren’t going to want to do that for free.
“I don’t want anyone to get the impression that we are not in favor of additional instructional days. We don’t have a problem with that. We just want to be sure that it comes with a funding source because the local patrons can’t pick up more education funding that the state isn’t covering.”