Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues:  The debate over four-day school weeks
  • In your district: Budgets
  • In Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc., SCOTUS could decide if charter schools are state actors
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

On Dec. 13, 2022, the Independence School District in Missouri became the largest district in the state (with about 14,000 students) to adopt a four-day school week for all grade levels. Independence School District is the 557th largest district by enrollment in the country. Officials in the nearby St. Joseph School District (with more than 10,000 students) are reportedly considering the change as well. 

Paul Hill writes that four-day school weeks do not save money because teachers, administrators, and most professional staff receive the same annual pay. Hill says teachers and students are more likely to lose focus in longer school days and that four-day school weeks worsen learning losses from sick days and other absences. He also says four-day weeks disproportionately harm lower-income and minority students with fewer resources at home and hurt the rural school districts that have tried the policy.

Lucy Rycroft-Smith writes about Colorado school districts that had statistically significant improvements in math scores after switching to a four-day school week. Rycroft-Smith says four-day weeks reduce stress for students and give them more time for play, extracurricular learning, and daytime appointments (like doctor’s visits) that would normally cause absences from school. She also says the policy gives teachers more time to plan lessons, collaborate, and seek professional development.

Beware the Four-Day School-Week Trap | Paul Hill, EducationWeek

“All teachers and most professional staff get the same annual pay for the four longer days, with the savings coming only from that fifth day of busing costs, utility bills, and wages of some support staff, such as those in custodial or food services. … Supporters of the four-day week assert that the longer days make up for the missed fifth day. But teachers and students, especially the younger children, may not work as effectively at the end of such long days, thus reducing overall learning. Low-income and minority students, who generally have fewer learning resources at home, stand to lose disproportionately from the loss of a day in school. High school students assigned homework every school day will have one less evening of preparation per week. And days lost to illness or weather will have a greater impact on learning time. Nobody seriously argues that less time in school will increase student learning. And here’s the rub: The hundreds of four-day-week districts in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, and Oregon are overwhelmingly rural districts, which, on average, fall below state means on student achievement, graduation rates, and college attendance. A policy that just holds student results to previous levels will not expand students’ college options or help communities attract new businesses and jobs.”

What a difference a day makes: the argument for a four-day school week | Lucy Rycroft-Smith, The Guardian

“The four-day school week for students in Colorado was introduced as a cost-saving measure, and the improvements in academic results were the opposite of what had been anticipated, Walker explains. … But the results show that, even for these young students, a four-day school week had a statistically significant positive impact on maths scores (around 7% extra on average), and a possible positive impact on reading scores (although this was not deemed statistically significant by the study’s testing standards). … [A]s someone who taught for 10 years, I can certainly see the potential benefits. It would give young people some much-needed breathing space and, in schools where the fifth day was used for extracurricular activities, students wouldn’t have to choose between academic study and other pursuits. … The benefits for teachers should not be overlooked either. Those who took part in the study reported greater efficiency and better collaboration when they used the fifth day to plan together, with some schools even finding that staff turnover was reduced. … Perhaps most exciting is the potential to use the fifth day to provide good-quality continued professional development and support for teachers where it is (sometimes desperately) needed.”

In your district: Budgets 

School districts around the country face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Complete the very brief survey below—anonymously, if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.

Today’s question:

What are your thoughts on the current and proposed budget for your school district? 

Click here to respond!

In Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc., SCOTUS could decide if charter schools are state actors

A case before the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) could help answer whether charter schools are public schools or private organizations for the 45 states with laws authorizing charter schools. As of this writing, SCOTUS is considering whether to hear the case.

Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc. concerns whether charter schools are state actors subject to constitutional review under Title 42 of the United States Code Section 1983. Section 1983 allows individuals to sue the government for civil rights violations.

The case arose from a school uniform policy. Charter Day School, a charter school in North Carolina that receives 95% of its funding from federal, state, and local governments, requires female students to wear skirts, jumpers, or skorts (shorts designed to look like a skirt) and male students to wear pants or shorts. In 2016, Bonnie Peltier, her daughter (a student at the school), two other student families, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Charter Day School in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. They alleged the skirt requirement violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in public schools. Charter Day School responded that “as a private nonprofit corporation that contracts with the State to operate a charter school, it is not a state actor and therefore not subject to suit under Section 1983.”

In 2019, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Judge Malcolm Howard ruled the uniform policy was unconstitutional. Former President Ronald Reagan (R) appointed Howard in 1987. 

Charter Day School appealed the decision to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. The Religious Freedom Institute, along with other organizations, submitted an amicus brief in support of Charter Day School. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, along with other organizations, submitted an amicus brief in support of Bonnie Peltier and other plaintiffs. 

On June 14, 2022, the court ruled 10-6 that North Carolina charter schools are state actors. The court held that Charter Day School’s dress code policy violated female students’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

Writing for the majority, Senior Judge Barbara Keenan said: “Ultimately, the state action inquiry in this case is not complicated: (1) North Carolina is required under its constitution to provide free, universal elementary and secondary schooling to the state’s residents; (2) North Carolina has fulfilled this duty in part by creating and funding the public charter school system; and (3) North Carolina has  exercised its sovereign prerogative to treat these state-created and state-funded schools as public institutions that perform the traditionally exclusive government function of operating the state’s public schools.” 

Former President Barack Obama (D) nominated Keenan to the Fourth District.

In a partial dissent, Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum wrote: “My worry is that the majority’s reasoning transforms all charter schools in North Carolina, and likely all charter schools in the other states that form our circuit, into state actors. As a result, the innovative alternatives to traditional public education envisioned by North Carolina when it passed the Charter Schools Act, and thus the choices available to parents, will be limited.”

Former President Donald Trump (R) nominated Quattlebaum to the Fourth District.

Charter Day School presented the following question to the Supreme Court in its appeal: “Whether a private entity that contracts with the State to operate a charter school engages in state action when it formulates a policy without coercion or encouragement by the government.”

Texas, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia joined together to file an amicus brief asking SCOTUS on behalf of Charter Day School to take up the case. The states argued classifying charter schools as state actors undermines their own charter schools’ independence.  

On Jan. 6, SCOTUS reviewed the case. On Jan. 9, SCOTUS asked U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar to file a brief expressing the Biden administration’s thoughts on the case. SCOTUS’ request does not mean it will ultimately hear the case. 

During its 2021-2022 term, SCOTUS issued rulings on at least two cases with broad implications for K-12 public education—Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. Click here to read our coverage of those cases.

We’ll bring you more on Peltier v. Charter Day School as it develops. 

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

We’re featuring survey responses from school board candidates who won their races on Nov. 8. 

Today, we’re looking at responses from Robert Barr (R), who won the general election for one of four seats on Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools school board District 2 in North Carolina, and Tracy Miller, who won the general election Jordan Board of Education Precinct 3 in Utah.

Here’s how Barr answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“Making sure all of our kids have the support and resources to learn. I grew up in public housing, raised by a single parent, and economically disadvantaged. However, because of the support of a guidance counselor and a program called Upward Bound that helped my mother and I navigate the educational system I was able to achieve some success. I have a Masters Degree from Wake Forest and a Bachelors Degree from Winston-Salem State University. Through education and the proper support, all children can learn. I am a big advocate of parental involvement and engagement. Parents are a crucial and critical part of children learning.”

Click here to read the rest of Barr’s answers.

Here’s how Miller answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“I am passionate about public education! I have spent the past decade helping our schools in various capacities. Prior to serving on the school board I spent a lot of time advocating at the state capitol for parent voice on School Community Councils. I was instrumental in getting a constitutional amendment passed that has resulted in increased funding for our schools through the School Land Trust program.”
Click here to read the rest of Miller’s answers.