Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2007

District to wait on Legislature for all-day kindergarten

August 16, 2007

It may be just a matter of time before the state mandates all-day kindergarten as the importance of early childhood education is increasingly emphasized and that could mean even more classrooms will be needed in De Soto USD 232 elementary schools slated to be expanded if the $51 million bond issue passes.

"Early education is important," said Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee. "It particularly can help with at-risk students."

When the Kansas House and Senate reconvene in January, there will be several education issues on the table, Jordan said. Although the state chose not to act on all-day kindergarten last session, it could be one of the issues addressed at the next session if it is made a priority.

"I think there is a high priority by the governor and early education to actually start moving toward all-day kindergarten," Jordan said. "How we decide our priorities I don't know at this time."

The state's recent focus on at-risk children could lead to a stronger focus on early education.

"We've put a lot of money into at-risk kids in the last few years," Jordan said. "You could make an argument that early childhood education and all-day kindergarten could help those costs in the future. If that argument is made successfully that could help the cause."

Until all-day kindergarten is mandated by the state, there is no state funding to support it. Kindergarten students are counted as one half of a student according to the state's funding formula for education.

The De Soto school district currently has half-day kindergarten as well as a state-funded full-day kindergarten program at Starside Elementary School for at-risk students.

Starting this year, parents at all Shawnee Mission schools have the option of paying extra to have their children attend all-day kindergarten. Last year, the option was offered at just a few schools.

Although many districts in Johnson County are making the switch to all-day kindergarten, the De Soto School District has held back, mostly because of lack of funding. De Soto Board of Education members are wary of passing on more fees to parents with higher mill levies already in place to fund the growing district.

"It's not going to happen," board member Randy Johnson said. "We can't afford it. The district wants it funded through the state and I think it needs to be funded through the state before the district will get it."

Space and teachers for all-day kindergarten are also concerns. Classrooms that are now serving two classes per day would be able to serve only one class. More teachers would be needed to handle the demand for twice as many kindergarten students in the schools at one time.

However, district planning and operations director Jack Deyoe said classrooms for kindergarten students are not a major concern at this point as all-day kindergarten is not imminent. Additionally, the $51 million bond issue that will be mailed to voters later this month includes the addition of four classrooms at four of the elementary schools to accommodate future growth and buy the school board time to make a strategic plan.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said if approved, those classrooms could be used for all-day kindergarten if a state mandate is put in place.

However, it would be a temporary solution. While the schools are not at capacity this year because of the opening of Horizon Elementary School, within the next four years the classrooms are projected to be filled again, which includes filling the four proposed classrooms for Clear Creek, Mize and Riverview elementary schools, district community relations director Alvie Cater said. This does not include utilizing commons areas like was done recently to accommodate growth.

"If the state were to mandate all day kindergarten next year, then the board would have to speed up its planning," Cater said.

Deyoe said the next step is finding out how De Soto patrons want to address all-day kindergarten when the strategic planning process in the district begins.

"As we look at what is going to happen in the next three to six years, the push on early childhood education and getting them early and starting it right -- I do believe that is going to be a high emphasis," he said. "Right now it's just crystal-balling. It's not fact. It's just guess work."

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