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Independence voters would weigh in on 4-day school week under new Missouri bill

A woman stands at a podium in front of a school board. TV monitors above her read “ISD.” Behind her is a crowded room of people sitting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Truman High School teacher Shelley Lauber addresses the Independence School Board as it considered a four-day school week.

A bill headed to the Missouri governor's desk would require larger school districts to receive voter approval before adopting a four-day week. That includes the Independence School District, which switched to a four-day week this school year to attract more teachers.

The Independence School District, which this school year became the largest district in Missouri to hold classes only four days a week, would need approval from voters to continue that structure under a bill headed to the governor’s desk.

The provision is part ofa wide-ranging bill that, among other things, increases teacher pay and expands a scholarship program for students to attend private schools. Gov. Mike Parson’s signature is required for the bill to become law.

If that happens, beginning in the 2026-2027 school year, certain school districts would have to ask voters before adopting or continuing a four-day school week. The affected districts are those located in cities with more than 30,000 population, or in Jackson, Clay, St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles counties.

Missouri State Rep. Aaron McMullen, a Republican from Independence, filed a similar bill earlier in the legislative session that would have grandfathered in the Independence four-day week. He said his constituents didn’t feel like their voice was heard when the school district switched to a shorter week last fall.

“We're trying to make sure that the community comes together and makes a decision as a whole instead of just the school boards,” McMullen said.

A spokesperson said the Independence district will put the issue on a ballot sometime during the 2025-2026 school year if Parson signs the bill. If a four-day week was the only item on the ballot the election would cost the district about $145,000.

Independence was by far the largest district in Missouri to make the switch to a shorter school week, leaving questions for families about what they could expect. More than 30% of the state’s districts adopted the shortened week this school year — but most are small and in rural areas.

Superintendent Dale Herl said the change was made primarily to help recruit and retain teachers. It comes amid an ongoing shortage of teachers and other workers across the state. Herl told KCUR’s Up to Date this spring that the district already achieved its goal.

"Applications are up more than 360%," Herl said. "We've got every classroom filled in the Independence School District."

Parents and caregivers shared mixed opinions about the new schedule with KCUR’s text line. Some families said the extra day off improved students’ mental health and gave them extra time to catch up on homework.

Others found students tired out from longer school days and lacking support and activities when they’re out of school.

McMullen said rural districts initially adopted the four-day week as a cost-saving measure, especially for transportation. He said the shorter schedule eventually started being used as a teacher-recruiting incentive and spread to more suburban districts.

That’s an issue, according to McMullen. He said suburban areas rely primarily on a 9-to-5, five-day work week.

“We don't know what the long term effects are,” McMullen said. “It's a problem, because many of the single mothers or families don’t have the ability to provide daycare for that additional day nor have the resources.”

The bill also includes a financial incentive for schools that stick with the five-day week to go towards raising teacher pay. In March, Herl told the Kansas City Star that the district won’t take the money and already passed a tax levy to boost teacher salaries.

“When you look at what’s going on with teacher retention, this boils down to far more than a situation about salary,” Herl told the Star. “It’s about work-life balance … and this four-day school week allows us to address that.”

The sweeping education bill includes several provisions that education leaders have been pushing to address the state's struggle to recruit and retain teachers. It passed narrowly because of controversial school choice measures.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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