As officials plan for more days in school year, what will it mean for instruction, costs?

Illinois school officials say they are beginning to discuss their 2019-20 calendars, now that they need to plan for two extra instructional days.

The state is requiring schools to be in session for a minimum of 176 days. But there will be no minimum amount of time students need to be in class like there used to be.

That’s because Illinois’ public school funding overhaul now bases state dollars on student enrollment rather than attendance.

Individual school districts will get to decide what a school day means for their students. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, that may include online classes, internships or independent research projects.

Or there could be no change at all from the five-hour school day that parents and students are used to.

Some officials are considering the potential costs to their districts.

“This is a significant change,” Highland District 5 Superintendent Mike Sutton said at a recent school board meeting. “We are required to have two more instructional days than we’ve had for as long as most of us can remember.”

It means two more days of payroll and two more days added to nearly every program assistance contract the district has with outside agencies, Sutton said.

“It also means we’ll have two more days of buses running, two more days of feeding kids, two more days of school,” Sutton said. “There’s a cost to that.”

In Belleville District 118, which instructs students in kindergarten through eighth grade, officials say learning will likely continue to take place face-to-face because of the age level of the children.

“It’s going to allow us to look at innovative ways to educate our kids,” said Ryan Boike, the district’s incoming superintendent. “I think it lends itself a little bit more to high school districts with internships, online learning, things that older kids might have the ability to do versus, say, a second-grader.”

In the past, schools could plan for 174 instructional days, along with days for mandated teachers’ training and for parent-teacher conferences, if there were days when students were in class for more than the minimum five hours.

Starting in 2019-20, days such as parent-teacher conferences, when students might not have been in school, can be combined with a teacher training day and be counted toward the 176-day calendar.

Administrators, school board members and union representatives are beginning to talk now about how future calendars may need to be tweaked. East St. Louis District 189 spokeswoman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said officials there are seeking advice from parents, too, before any changes are made.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correctly identify the old state rules for school calendars.