Lack of funds dooms full-day kindergarten plan

Kindergarten has become yet another victim of the recession.

In 2008, legislators planned to boost the number of schools offering full-day kindergarten by asking the state board of education to implement full-day kindergarten statewide and setting aside millions in the state budget to construct new kindergarten facilities.

The newly formed P-20 education council recommended counting kindergarten students as one student rather than half a student, so schools would get more money. The climb to full funding began last year with every kindergarten student being counted as 0.58 of a student.

Then suddenly the push stopped. Legislators decided not to budge from the 0.58 mark in 2009. The state board of education quieted discussion of how to implement all-day kindergarten. Money for kindergarten expansion was swallowed up by other concerns when revenue came up short. A $560.7 million Colorado budget shortfall noted by the state legislative council office in September offered no encouragement the full-day kindergarten campaign would move any further this year.

Full-day kindergarten has its benefits, but the state budget has higher priorities to fund first, state board of education member and Grand Junction resident Marcia Neal said.

As far as when the state may scrounge up enough money to return to their plans for expanding full-day kindergarten to more schools, Neal said, “I don’t see anything happening in the next two to three years.”

Nine District 51 elementary schools have at least some full-day sessions for kindergartners: Chatfield, Dos Rios, Dual Immersion, Gateway, Glade Park, Independence Academy, Nisley, Pear Park and Rocky Mountain. Independence Academy is a charter school that chooses to have all-day kindergarten, Glade Park has a program that groups kindergarten through second-grade students together, and Gateway received money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that the school chose to spend on offering full-day kindergarten.

The other schools offer full-day kindergarten through Title I dollars, meaning more than half of the students are eligible for free or reduced meals.

Clifton Elementary stopped offering full-day sessions this year because nearly 100 students signed up for kindergarten. With only four teachers for all those students, the school decided to keep class numbers small and have eight half-day sessions.

Clifton’s example outlines one of the challenges of offering full-day school to all elementary school students. Combining morning and afternoon populations could mean schools would have to hire more teachers, buy more supplies and add rooms or modulars to campus. District 51 Elementary Schools Director Andy Laase is a proponent of full-day kindergarten, but he acknowledges the state and most districts don’t have enough money to attend to the issue at this time.

“Good ideas don’t always happen because they’re good ideas. You have to be able to support them budgetarily,” Laase said.

Someday, though, having kindergartners attend classes all day could mean a boost in funding if and when the district’s youngest elementary students are counted as more than 0.58 of a student.

Full-day kindergarten can also save money. It means less state spending on child care subsidies, fewer schools spending money on remediation, and increased enrollment of children with working parents, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

There are also educational benefits to extending the kindergarten school day. According to selected research on the CDE’s Web site, children that attend full-day kindergarten tend to be more socially and emotionally prepared for first grade, perform better in math and reading, have better attendance records, and have better report card grades in behavior than students who attend kindergarten on a half-day schedule.

Full-day kindergarten offers extra time to help some students catch up before first grade, Laase said. While some 5-year-olds are read to every night and come to school ready to read, others have never seen the inside of a library.

“I think it benefits all kids, but it’s particularly helpful for kids with less learning advantages coming in. It offers more time for support and intervention,” Laase said.

Laase said he’s never heard anyone from the state say the conversation about full-day kindergarten is over, and he’ll be glad when it becomes a lively discussion once more.

“When the state is in a better financial position, I suspect that they will start working on it again,” he said.


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