ST. PAUL - Nearly a dozen Minnesota school districts launched four-day school weeks as a means to save money, but as state officials say they need to return to five-day schedules, school officials, teachers, parents and students pleaded with a state House committee Tuesday to let them keep the policy because it has proven to be an improvement in many ways.

"I am just begging you, begging you, to show your support," Tia Johnson, a mother of students in west-central Minnesota's MACCRAY School District, told the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.

People from the Lake Superior, Blackduck and Ogilvie school districts joined in the plea, saying that their students do better because they have longer class periods in a four-day week and one day is available for students to do extended projects, catch up on homework, take care of personal appointments and be available for more extra-curricular activities.

Committee Chairwoman Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said that she expects the Legislature to pass a version of the bill, even if it only grandfathers in districts already using a four-day week. Gov. Mark Dayton's education commissioner has the authority to reject a district's application to go to a four-day week, and has rejected all of them because, she said, they do not meet academic standards.

Some districts have reverted to five-day weeks, either on their own or because Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius denied their applications to continue the shorter week.

State officials say that academic test scores have fallen when some districts switched to four days.

Erickson said her committee will vote on the issue within a couple of weeks. No dissenters testified on Tuesday but they are expected at another meeting.

Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, told people who attended from Blackduck to continue to urge the Legislature to pass the bill as is, which would allow any local school district to opt for a four-day week.

Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said that he is optimistic lawmakers will pass the bill he and Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, sponsor.

Miller said that rural schools are "creatively" dealing with their problems.

He said the state should decide what schools must accomplish, but local districts should decide how to meet those guidelines, with four-day weeks as an option.

While lawmakers discussed the process, Johnson and other testifiers brought emotion to the witness table.

Johnson, who has a baby due "any day," said she is so passionate about the subject that "I am willing to have my baby in a Capitol bathroom if I need to."

Blackduck High School Principal Joshua Grover said his district ranks among the best in the state, even with a four-day week. More than 90 percent of his school seniors graduate, compared to about 80 percent statewide.

His district saves $100,000 annually with the change, Grover said.

Most of Tuesday's discussion centered on why the communities involved like the concept, which he said is "best for students."

"You can't use a cookie cutter for education," Grover said.

Superintendent Bill Crandall of the Lake Superior School District said that districts such as his and Warroad implemented the four-day week partially because of long bus-ride times many students experience. He said that his district is twice the size of Rhode Island, forcing some students to ride between three and four hours a day.

An unexpected benefit, he said, is that children in split families now "have much more time to spend with their other parent," Crandall said.

Some four-day districts take off Friday, some Monday.

Testifiers said benefits include:

• Longer classes, giving students more time to learn.

• A day off gives students and teachers a chance to make appointments, such as with a doctor.

• Longer school days often mean students attend class about the same hours as parents work, making drop-off and pick-up easier.

• The day off allows students to complete homework and work on long-term projects.

• Students may use the day off to work or to learn about professions they may enter.

• Schools save money, which was the original reason many districts went to four-day weeks.

• Teachers may use their day off to prepare for the next week.

• More time may be available for sports and other activities.

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