A bill that would allow school districts to apply for a three-year pilot program to try out a four-day school week cleared its first hurdle in the Alaska House of Representatives Monday, with the House Education Committee advancing the legislation after hearing public comment last Friday and Monday morning.
House Bill 21, which was introduced by Reps. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was moved to the House Finance Committee, its second and final committee of referral.
The bill was drafted in response to the Southeast Island School District’s unsuccessful application last year to Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Mike Hanley for a schedule allowing a four-day school week.
Hanley testified Monday that the application was rejected because SISD Superintendent Lauren Burch did not provide a detailed proposal, which the district has prepared this year.
“If what had been put before us now had been submitted previously, the conversation would have been a whole lot different,” Hanley said.
Asked by Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, how he feels about alternative schedules like the four-day school week — which is used by rural school districts in several other states — Hanley said he is open to them, provided they are able to show there is no decline in the level of education they provide.
“I’m surely open to the flexibility of a four-day week,” said Hanley.
Peggy Wilson said before the committee adopted a motion by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, to advance H.B. 21 that the sponsors were preparing changes to the bill in response to feedback and concerns raised Friday and over the weekend.
After the meeting ended, Peggy Wilson detailed some of those changes.
One of the most major changes would transfer authority to approve the pilot program from the Alaska Board of Education to the commissioner, who already has authority to approve an alternative schedule if a district can prove it will be beneficial for students’ educational attainment.
Hanley expressed concern during the meeting that if that power resided in the Board of Education, “I think the process would be slightly more cumbersome.”
Another change would open up the pilot program to more than one school district, a change urged by Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, during Friday’s meeting.
“We’re just going to open up to anybody, and then the commissioner, you know, he will probably keep that down to two or three,” said Wilson.
Wilson said she believes Hanley has moderated his position on allowing a four-day school week.
“I think that he is a little more willing to work with schools now to do that,” Wilson said. “I think we’ll have cooperation from him now.”
Under the forthcoming version of the bill, the stringent requirement for a school district in the pilot program to submit quarterly reports to the state will be done away with, leaving only an annual reporting requirement. Wilson said that is more reasonable, considering not all schools have quarterly testing.
School districts will also need majority support from within the community to adopt a four-day school week, according to Wilson.
The changes in H.B. 21 will be included in a committee substitute for the bill, which the House Finance Committee can choose whether or not to hear, Wilson added.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.