Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Illinois’ regional differences crop up once again in bill offering four-day school week

I can remember a moment more than a decade ago when the Illinois House of Representatives was considering a bill that would make it state law that people could not ride in the backs of pickup trucks unless those trucks were equipped with seat belts and everybody was strapped in.

Who ever heard of a pickup truck with seat belts in the back? Not me. Not anybody.

I CAN RECALL one rural Illinois legislator being particularly critical of the measure on the grounds that this bill (which was sponsored by a Democratic legislator from the North Side) was a case of a Chicago person trying to put a city-way of viewing an issue into the minds of all Illinoisans.

Because it was just the way things were done that people would pile up in the back of a pickup truck for a ride.

That bill went down to defeat, becoming one of those moments when the Legislature quit being Democrat versus Republican and became urban versus rural – with suburban people using the rare moment to “stick it” to the city.

Now what made me remember this incident, that I believe took place in 1997?

IT WAS UPON learning that the Illinois House on Monday gave an overwhelming vote of support (81-21, to be exact) for a bill that would allow public school districts in Illinois the option of converting their schedules to four-day weeks.

In short, students would go to school for four days, and have the other three off.

Such a concept is in place in 19 other states, and tends to be used by school districts in those states that cover rural communities – particularly districts that cover many miles of territory (instead of the typical suburban school district that usually covers a town and part of another) and has many students who have to be bused in from isolated areas.

This is a rural concept that a political person wants to impose on Illinois (although I would hope the Chicago Public Schools would have the sense to realize how ridiculous it is). That political person is state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, who during his decades in the Legislature has developed not only a reputation for being blunt-spoken, he also was the lawmaker who spoke out all those years ago on the absurdity of trying to impose an “urban” idea on the rest of the state.

COULD IT BE that some people don’t appreciate the irony of Black criticizing one region’s officials for trying to look out for public safety with ideas that were totally comprehendible to anybody in Chicago, but is willing to impose his “region’s” ideas on the rest of the state?

Now the one difference is that it would be the local school boards that would decide whether they want to bother with the idea of a four-day school week.

The Chicago Teachers Union already is making it clear they don’t approve, and there also are the complaints from some parents who rely on the fact that their kids are in school Monday thorugh Friday to account for their presence and activity while the parents are at work.

So I don’t expect to see Chicago Public Schools students getting a three-day weekend any time soon.

I WOULD EXPECT a lot of the suburban districts whose officials already are concerned that their students don’t spend enough time in the classroom would not be quick to endorse the idea either.

So perhaps this really is a concept that would be taken seriously only by those school districts in isolated parts of central and Southern Illinois, where Black told reporter-types that some officials have approached him saying that a four-day school week would help them save money at a time when school districts are likely to have their state aid payments hacked to pieces.

Specifically, they say the cost of transportation is running high, since those rural districts can be spread out over large areas, and all school districts these days are having to pay more to the companies that operate school bus routes because the companies are charging the districts more money to cover the rising costs of fuel for the buses.

Yes, that is one factor. But I question how much the overall savings really could be, since you would now have to have longer school days. Which means teachers working more hours per day. Which I’m sure means the potential for them to pick up more money if such labor is expected.

THERE IS ALSO the fact that I don’t like the idea of making more widespread the differences in public schools based on where they are. It undermines the concept even further that a student at a public school – regardless of which school he/she attends – ought to be capable of having equal opportunity of obtaining a basic education.

I’m skeptical that having three-day weekends all the time would not negatively impact the ability of students to retain what they have learned. Those rural school districts, particularly when one gets into Southern Illinois, are some of the worst funded in the state. They make the Chicago Public Schools look like a financial paradise, by comparison.

I’d hate to have to think we’re going to have to start looking down on anyone educated in a rural public school in Illinois because they imposed this measure to save themselves the cost of some gasoline for the school buses.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Illinois Senate could still kill off the concept (,house-bill-four-day-school-week-032210.article) of a four-day school week in Illinois.

What does it say about me ( that I'm in agreement with Rich Daley on an issue?

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