Archive for Thursday, January 4, 2007

State funding key to all-day kindergarten

January 4, 2007

At nearly 3 years of age, Rachel Mallozzi can't wait to go to school.

Her first day at Starside Elementary School could be all-day or half-day, depending on what the Kansas Legislature decides over the next few years. The school currently has the traditional half-day kindergarten for all but a select few students considered "at risk" by the state.

Rachel's big sister, Gabrielle, is a second-grader at Starside Elementary School. Gabrielle was able to attend all-day kindergarten in another district.

"I think it's a good way to transition them to school," said their father, Guy Mallozzi.

Although schools in De Soto USD 232 may not have enough space to immediately offer all-day kindergarten, the district is endorsing funding for an expanded program. Currently, the base-state-aid-per-pupil system counts each kindergartner as half a student regardless of whether the student attends an all-day program. That means districts receive $2,158 for each kindergarten student, compared to the $4,316 for those in first through 12th grades.

In some Kansas schools, parents share the cost of tuition for sending their child to all-day programs. Other rural areas are implementing all-day kindergarten funded entirely by the district -- Bonner Springs plans to begin its all-day program next year. De Soto elementary schools don't have space yet for all-day programs.

In an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, interim Kansas Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said about two-thirds of all Kansas schools already have all-day kindergarten. It would cost about $75 million for the state to fund a statewide program. The Kansas Board of Education is considering some plans for funding over the next three years.

USD 232 operations director Jack Deyoe recently told the board the district was looking at how much the expanded kindergarten program would cost.

"We're looking at what other districts are charging," he said. "The board may just offer it to as many parents who want it, but we need to be prepared for the fact that 90 percent may want all-day kindergarten."

Deyoe said space was as big a concern as funding. It would take another bond issue to provide that space, he said.

Seven kindergarten classes at Riverside Elementary School have already taken every available space, including two classrooms inside the library.

Not all Starside parents endorse the concept of all-day kindergarten. Christina Becerra, whose children are all in Starside Elementary School and Lexington Trails Middle School, said she thought an all-day program might be too much for young students.

"I'm one of those parents who feel that I should be with my kids when they're little," she said.

Becerra, who is able to stay at home with her children, said two or three hours of preschool were plenty for her children before they entered school.

Lisa Wickey, another Starside parent, disagreed. Wickey said she grew up in Nebraska, where all school districts have all-day kindergarten.

"Some people say that it's too long of a day for that age, but my daughter wouldn't have had a problem with it," she said. "I think it depends on the child."

State Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, said while he supported the idea of all-day kindergarten, he wanted to be sure the Kansas budget could financially support the program.

"If we're going to add all-day kindergarten, let's do it in a way we'll be able to maintain it throughout. If we're going to do it, let's do it right."

Brown said there might be some interest in all-day kindergarten for 2007 because it had been a good revenue year, but was concerned about the future.

"I'd hate to start a program in a good year and find out in two or three years down the road we can't fund it when our revenue isn't so good," he said.

The Shawnee Mission school district's legislative platform also supports a tax that would fund all-day kindergarten. It would allow a district to levy an additional 2 percent of its operating budget to fund all-day kindergarten. Shawnee Mission began a pilot program for all-day kindergarten two years ago, partially funded by tuition from parents. The Shawnee Mission district expanded the program to more elementary schools this year.

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