OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill aiming to restore five-day school weeks in Oklahoma has advanced a Senate committee for education.
Senate Bill 441 authored by Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore passed by a vote of 11 to 6 on Tuesday morning.
The bill includes language stating all public schools must be session for no less than 180 days. Currently, schools are to be in session for 1,080 hours.
"If we’re ever going to move this state forward, we’re going to have to quit doing business the way we’ve been doing business," Quinn said during his closing debate. "We can’t always wait on the funding because you can’t tell me what our financial situation is going to be tomorrow."
Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso was one of six legislators expressing concern over the bill. Opponents stated they were not against five-day school weeks; however, they stressed that funding was still an issue.
"It’s just the wrong time," Dossett said. "I’d like to be for your deal, but I just can’t because I feel like we’re taking a tool away from people who have made due over the last few years with budget cuts that are somewhat out of our hands with the economy and I’d argue somewhat in our hands."
Concern over flexibility was echoed by Tristy Fryer, a former first grade teacher and current co-chair of the Bixby Parent Legislative Action Committee.
"What happens in Bixby, Oklahoma is going to be different than what happens in the western part of the state, and some of those districts had to make some tough decisions," Fryer said. "Would we love to have our kids in schools five days a week? Absolutely, but those districts feel like they’re meeting the needs of their students and their community."
Backers of the measure stressed the bill provides exemptions to the five-day school week if local schools can demonstrate four-day weeks are not adversely impacting their students and saved the local district money.
"Local school board still has control to plead their case in front of the Department of the Education to say here’s why we’re doing it and justify. That’s all we’re asking is justification," said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. "This chamber, both Republicans and Democrats, are committed to making education funding a huge priority but let us not lose sight that it’s about the child next year, the year after, the year after that. These kids are in the classroom today. These kids need high expectations today."
The bill now heads to the full Senate floor.