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More States Are Beginning to Come Around to the Benefits of Full-Day Kindergarten

It might seem like there aren’t many bipartisan issues in education reform, but all-day kindergarten seems to be one of them. The issue for most states in putting full-day kindergarten programs in place seems to be on figuring out the best way to come up with a formula to fund full-day programs.

The definition of what constitutes a full-day of kindergarten can vary from state to state. For example, in 28 states, a full-day of kindergarten is equal to a regular day of first-grade. In other states like California and Nevada, the minimum required hours per year might be significantly shorter than that of other grades. Currently, there just 13 states and the District of Columbia that require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten classes, though the number of states set to possibly join that group seems to be rising.

Just last week, New Hampshire’s governor, Chris Sununu (R), signed a bill that would use the state’s Keno lottery system to provide an additional $1,100 per kindergartener, starting in 2019. Roughly 75 percent of the state’s school districts already offered full-day programs, but the state only paid half the standard per-student amount.

Democratic Sen. David Watters commended Gov. Sununu on the success of achieving the 80 percent of the standard per-pupil allotment. “If any school got 80 percent proficiency (on standardized tests) they would be celebrating, so let’s say Legislature got 80 percent proficiency on this,” Watters told the Concord Monitor. “I’m sure we’ll keep working together on full funding.”

While publicly-funded preschool programs have risen in recent years, the increase in full-day kindergarten programs has seen enormous success in closing the early education gap and preparing children for academic success in later years. Children who attend full-day kindergarten as opposed to a half-day, show higher reading and mathematics comprehension than those who do not. The National Education Association reports that full-day programs better prepare children for the more structured learning of first-grade.

Like many school districts, Illinois’ Naperville School District saw a dramatic 10 percent growth in the math scores of first-grade students who had previously attended full-day kindergarten classes in 2014-2015. And the number of first-graders who met or exceeded reading expectations jumped from 53 percent to 68 percent.

"I was going to say wow, but what I wrote down was 'impressive,'" School board member Donna Wandke, told the Chicago Tribune. "Unless you have a kindergartner, you don't realize what a jump that is.”

Bringing kindergarten funding up to par with the per-pupil rate of higher grades is something more states are striving for, with policymakers at times butting heads about the best way to do so. New Hampshire’s funding of full-day kindergarten through gambling was met with “mixed feelings” by some.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to include additional funding in next year's state budget for the only six out of the state’s 700 school districts not currently offering full-day kindergarten programs. Moving from half-day to full-day programs had been a fiscal dilemma for districts like Pittsford school district near Rochester. A plan that would have provided funding by raising the property-tax levy by 4.7 percent didn’t receive enough votes for approval.

With research showing greater academic gains for children who attend full-day kindergarten and a strong showing of support by both teachers and parents, Cuomo’s announcement was welcomed news for parent Jennifer Teichmann. Teichmann, a mother of four in Stony Brook, is part of a parent-advocate group that had pushed for funding. "By including transitional full-day funding for the last six half-day kindergarten school districts in the governor's 2018 budget, our children will finally be on the path to a fair start,” she said.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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