Poster Paper: Why Do School Districts Adopt Four-Day School Weeks? Financial Evidence from Missouri

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

J. Cameron Anglum, University of Pennsylvania; Saint Louis University

In recent years, school district adoption of four-day school weeks has grown markedly. Now followed in more than 550 districts across 25 states, policies regarding four-day school weeks are proliferating across the nation in an expanding set of local and state contexts (Heyward, 2018). The four-day school week represents a significant structural shift in public education carrying potential implications for student learning, teacher recruitment and retention, district finances, local community economic productivity, and family labor outcomes. Existing research suggests the efficacy of these policies on a subset of the aforementioned outcome measures may be mixed. Effects on academic achievement, for example, have been found to be positive in Colorado (Anderson & Walker, 2015) and negative in Oregon (Thompson, 2018). Average cost savings of the policy have been estimated to be modest, typically less than 3% of district expenditures (Griffith, 2011). As policies governing its implementation are adopted in new state settings and revised in existing settings, additional research may inform its implementation cognizant of such impacts.

The state of Missouri presents a particularly salient context to study the effects of the four-day school week. The policy, first permitted by Missouri law in the 2011-12 school year, has been adopted by 34 districts at the present time, or over five percent of districts statewide. In a majority of states, districts commonly cite financial considerations as a primary motivation for the policy shift. In Missouri, however, popular rhetoric suggests that districts have not anticipated financial savings and, rather, have pursued four-day school weeks as a means of facilitating teacher recruitment and retention (Turner & Finch, 2018). If district financial considerations did not motivate the adoption of a four-day schedule in Missouri, then districts which adopted the policy should not have exhibited financial traits which help predict such policy decisions.

This paper seeks to test the first element of that rationale empirically, namely district financial circumstances prior to policy adoption and financial effects witnessed after policy adoption. The staggered district policy adoption in Missouri over several school years enables a rich research design context to test these motivations and results explicitly. Applying quasi-experimental methods of analysis including event study, differences-in-differences, and comparative interrupted time series to this natural experiment, I address the following research questions:

  1. Do trends in school district expenditures and district enrollment predict district adoption of four-day school weeks?
  2. Do school districts which adopt four-day school weeks reduce their local tax effort in support of educational revenues?

Preliminary analysis indicates that Missouri districts which have adopted four-day school weeks reduced per-pupil expenditures, primarily driven by reductions to capital spending. On the other hand, these districts maintained or even increased their local tax effort and witnessed larger enrollment reductions, each relative to districts which maintained a five-day school week. These findings suggest that districts adopted four-day school weeks at least in part due to the challenging financial circumstances associated with decreasing enrollment and declining market value of taxable property, in addition to any perceived advantages in recruiting human capital.