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Texas Schools Now Clock Student Attendance in Minutes, Not Days

Nathan Bernier/KUT News
Starting this year, Texas public schools are measuring educational time in minutes, not days, in a new move to give schools more administrative flexibility.

This year, Texas public schools won’t measure instructional time by days, but they’ll do it by minutes. In the past, Texas public schools years were required to be provide 180 days of instruction. Now, a school year must provide a minimum of 75,600 minutes.

When schools plan their calendars for the school year, they include two make-up days in case of an emergency – mostly for things like snow or ice. Then, schools can use the make-up days if they need to provide the minimum amount of instruction.

But, by changing instructional time from days to minutes, if a school needs to make up extra time, they can add minutes to current school days instead of adding additional days to the school calendar.

“The school districts, to some extent, gamble they won’t have to use those days so they’ll schedule them on, like one is often scheduled on Good Friday, with the thought they’ll probably get off,” says Debbie Ratcliffe of the Texas Education Agency. “That often makes parents unhappy that their kids have to go to school on that day. So this new law could avoid that because they’ll make up the time on days they’re already in school.”

Although the law was intended to give school districts flexibility when there are emergencies, it could also allow schools to lengthen all school days and shorten the number of days needed to meet state standards. That would all be legal, as long as the school year doesn’t end before a state mandate of May 15th. Some schools already have longer school days, like IDEA Public Schools in Austin. Larkin Tackett is the executive director.

“It’s great to have that flexibility,” says Executive Director of IDEA, Larkin Tackett. “We still believe that our students need additional time and we’ll continue to provide additional time to be successful.”

But, there are still some unanswered questions about how to implement the law. It substantially changes how attendance is recorded and reported for funding. Schools typically get funding based on daily attendance. Ratcliffe at the TEA says they hope to answer these questions by the end of this semester.

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