How do you reduce transportation and operational costs in rural areas serving far-flung students? Try a four-day school week or supplementing with technology like “Beyond Textbooks.”
A recent report by the National Charter School Resource Center at Safal Partners reported that the vast majority of the 100 school districts in 17 states currently operating on a four-day-week schedule are located in rural areas in districts serving fewer than 1,000 students. These schools typically lengthen their school days to reach required hours of instruction. In one Idaho charter school, moving to a four-day school week led to a 20% reduction in transportation and food-service costs, with savings mostly from fuel, oil, salaries for hourly employees, and school bus drivers. Some schools even report that school staff attendance increases and money is saved on substitute teacher costs.
Other rural schools have successfully created digital partnerships to supplement in-house resources. These are brick and mortar rural schools, not online schools. Arizona’s Vail school district, for example, created an open-source textbook called Beyond Textbooks (BT), which has allowed smaller rural districts to serve their community through a diverse portfolio of schools. Staff incorporate common planning times throughout the week for the program to discuss how to best reflect the BT standards in their core classes.
BT also provides teachers and other school staff access to teacher-developed instructional resources and comprehensive data tools. BT is a provider of professional development, which allows rural teachers the opportunity for teacher collaboration.
Vail Public Schools Superintendent Calvin Baker sees BT as a way for rural schools to address common operational challenges. “There is no way they can do it all. There is too much politics and too much to do–finance issues, operational issues, personnel issues.” With BT, districts can cut operational costs, while providing support for teachers and giving students rigorous curriculum materials.
Can rural charter schools survive? Yes! It takes that special entrepreneurial spirit, and a little help from your friends. BT is now expanding beyond Arizona. Might your school be interested in bringing Beyond Textbooks to your community?