“All children should have guaranteed access to high-quality, publicly funded full-day K each day of the school week if they are to meet the learning and work-force challenges of the 21st century,” according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a national advocacy organization.
But across the country, full-day kindergarten is only available to some children, while others only get two or three hours a day.
A recent Washington Post article pointed to the “time crunch” of half-day kindergarten, noting, “Mary Waldman began her career teaching kindergartners how to hold a pencil and write their ABCs. Fifteen years later, she is teaching Loudoun County students to read books and write stories. While academic expectations have grown exponentially over the years, the length of the school day has stayed the same: Three hours.”
The Post adds, “About 75 percent of kindergartners nationwide are enrolled in full-day programs, three times the rate of a few decades ago, as many school districts have come to view kindergarten as an academic starting point, rather than a practicing ground for the rhythms and routines of school. But that leaves about a million students for whom kindergarten still lasts just a few hours a day.”
To learn more about states’ kindergarten policies, go to the online database of state profiles maintained by The Education Commission of the States.
In Massachusetts, most communities, including the Gateway Cities, have tuition-free full-day kindergarten. However, access to full-day kindergarten is still limited in several suburban pockets of the state.
To see how cities and towns are trying to expand their kindergarten offerings, baystateparent magazine visited Holliston, Hopkinton and Wellesley, “part of a growing group of districts currently trying to transition to tuition free, full-day kindergarten programs,” the magazine says in the article “The Push for Tuition Free Full-Day Kindergarten.”
“While Bay State children don’t have to attend kindergarten, nearly all do,” the article says.
“Actually, 87 percent of Massachusetts kindergarteners are enrolled in a full-day program, up from 29 percent in 2000,” Amy O’Leary, director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign, told the magazine. “Of the 310 districts that offer kindergarten, 216 have implemented district-wide full-day kindergarten and 74 have a mixture of full- and part-day kindergarten programs.” As of last school year, 73 districts charged tuition for full-day kindergarten. The annual costs range from $1,000 to $4,500.
Part of what’s driving the push for full-day K in the districts that do not yet offer it is the need to prepare students to meet the math and English requirements of the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by education officials and governors in 48 states.
“What the state and federal governments are expecting in terms of curriculum today cannot fit into a half day,” Brad Jackson Holliston’s superintendent of schools, told baystateparent.
Holliston currently offers children:
– a French immersion program that’s available to children enrolled in tuition-free, half-day kindergarten
– full-day kindergarten (without the French program) that costs $3,475
“This year, 180 Holliston kindergarteners are enrolled in the full-day program, and 80 are enrolled in the half-day,” baystateparent reports.
For next school year, Superintendent Jackson is proposing eliminating tuition, extending the French immersion program to full-day, and discontinuing half-day kindergarten. The proposal would add $466,689 to the district budget, which will be voted on at the May 5th Annual Town Meeting.
“…state funding will cover all but approximately $20,000-$30,000 of the full-day program after its transition is complete in two years, assuming state funding does not change,” baystatemagazine says.
“We can’t wait another 180 children,” Dr. Cathy MacLeod, Hopkington’s superintendent told baystateparent. “This can’t be about convenience or space. This needs to be about instruction perfectly matched for our students.”
“Hopkinton has provided a partial full-day kindergarten for three years. Parents interested in the full-day option enter students in a lottery, and those selected pay a $4,000 tuition. There are 104 students enrolled in the 2013-2014 full-day program, and 88 are in the free half-day program. Forty-two families were turned away from full-day kindergarten due to space constraints. The district plans to discontinue the lottery and its half-day curriculum, and offer an enriched full-day kindergarten tuition free. The initiative will cost the district $416,000 for the 2014-2015 school year.”
Residents will vote on the school budget on May 5th.
“The world is not standing still around us. Expectations are accelerating and we need to calibrate our system,” David Lussier, Wellesley’s superintendent said. “Students need more time with our great teachers. Our literacy and numerology levels for incoming first graders are not acceptable.”
Wellesley has a “hybrid” kindergarten that starts off as a half-day program and adds hours over the course of the school year.
Lussier wants the town to offer a full-day program because it would create longer blocks of instructional time; allow for varied instructional methods; and add more time for lessons in areas that interest children.
“Because the town already qualifies for state funding with its hybrid model, the initiative will cost an additional $402,240, contributing to a 7 percent budget increase,” baystateparent says. “Any budget increase of 1.75 percent or higher requires an override of Proposition 2 ½ to raise taxes, and Wellesley residents will vote on the matter in May.”
As the Children’s Defense Fund explains, “Full-Day K can no longer be viewed as an optional add-on, enrichment or intervention program but must become a stable part of the early grade continuum.”