Wisconsin schools could shorten school year

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — In an effort to save money for cash-strapped Wisconsin districts, state lawmakers are considering ending a requirement that schools teach for 180 days a year or lose state funding.

The bill expected to win Senate approval Tuesday would allow schools to extend school days rather than force them to stay open later in the summer to make up days lost to weather closings and parent teacher conferences. Schools that don't meet the hourly quota would still lose state aid under the bill.

The measure also would change the way the Department of Public Instruction provides funding for summer courses, and allow funding for newly dubbed interim courses.

Three Democrats have announced they'll join the Republican majority in supporting the bill in the Senate. The Assembly still must vote on the measure.

Even the state DPI, often critical of the state's education funding methods, and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards back the bill.

"The requirement for school to be held for 180 days is the most common waiver proposal the department receives from school districts every year," said Bob Soldner, director of the School Financial Services Team at DPI.

Schools now have to meet both the hour and day requirements, and some have moved this year to lengthen days to make up for hours lost during the brutal winter.

If schools as early as next school year wanted to extend the school day and stay open for, say, 160 days, the bill allows them to do that.

Districts largely support the bill, though administrators said they are still studying the potential cost savings the bill would provide. But they expect savings to be substantial, and the bill's provisions to allow more funding for interim school time are popular.

"Reducing district-wide transportation for just a single day would save thousands of dollars," said Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance. "Scheduling fewer days of school during the coldest winter months would again save thousands of dollars in utility costs."

One La Crosse school, Hamilton Learning Center, moved to a year-round schedule starting July 18. The move meant losing state aid that would be given back if the bill passes, said Randy Nelson, superintendent of the School District of La Crosse.

The bill allows schools that might not be able to afford to offer needed courses during interim or summer sessions, but also provides funding to do so, said Democratic Rep. Mandy Wright, a former teacher from Wausau.

"This is exciting because they'll actually have the leverage to have more resources to give their students more learning time. Which is pretty much the number 1 thing you can to do increase student achievement is to have more time to teach them more.


Follow Taylor W. Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TaylorWAnderson .

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