Hawaii Starts 4-Day School Week to Cut Costs

The prospect of a three-day weekend in Hawaii doesn't bother many schoolchildren.

But for parents? It's another matter.

"As a parent, I'm pretty angry," said Hector Herrera. "I don't feel that our governor is leading our state in the right direction."

Starting today, Hawaii will go to a four-day school week for most of the academic year. It's the shortest in the nation, even though Hawaii already ranks near the bottom in national test scores.

VIDEO: Schools close on Fridays in Hawaii
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"Well, it's no fun, believe me, but, you know, we have to face our challenges and not run away from them," said Garret Toguchi, chairman of the State Board of Education.

The state is so strapped for cash because of the recession that the governor cut 14 percent from the school budget.

"One could imagine letting teachers go, reducing staff, and increasing class size and retaining the best performing teachers," said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings.

VIDEO: Hawaii: A Shorter School Week
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But not Hawaii. The state decided not to lay off any teachers for the next two years. Instead, it's saying aloha to furlough Fridays.

"We felt that by having the furlough days keeps more people working," said Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "That's important. ... That's how you try to help the economy."

"This is not the best option that I think anybody would want," said Toguchi, "but it's what we have arrived at."

President Obama's Position

In fact, it's exactly the opposite of what President Obama wants when it comes to improving the nation's public schools. And Hawaii is the president's home state.

"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last March.

The president often points out that the American school year is among the shortest in the world -- 180 days on average. In Hawaii, it will now be 163. In comparison, students in Japan spend 243 days in school and in South Korea, it's 220.

"If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America," Obama said last March.

Parental Concerns

Hawaii's budget solution is now the parents' problem on most Fridays.

"I'll be teacher, mom, homemaker, part-time worker at home. I'll be doing it all myself," said Christina Rainwater.

"Ordinarily, you depend on school for a variety of things, including child care," said Whitehurst. "So, parents are going to be struggling to cover some of the costs that are associated with a shorter school year."

And the students could fall even further behind.

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