Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

As more policymakers become champions of early education, “it’s important to remember that pre-K cannot stand alone – the years before and after pre-K are equally important to children’s development,” Abbie Lieberman writes in a post on New America’s Ed Central blog called, “Why Full-Day Kindergarten is a Key Piece of the Early Ed Puzzle.”

Full-day kindergarten is important, “because research indicates that kindergarteners benefit significantly from a full-day in the classroom. In fact, studies suggest that full-day kindergarten improves academic achievement and can lessen the achievement gap.”

Lieberman adds: “more time in the classroom means more time for high-quality interactions with teachers and peers, which translates to more learning. As Alexander Holt explains in Making the Hours Count: Exposing Disparities in Early Education by Retiring Half-Day vs. Full-Day Labels, ‘Time in a classroom does not guarantee opportunities to learn, but it is a necessary doorway to that opportunity.’ In short, it’s difficult for a child attending kindergarten for two hours a day to realize the same benefits as a child in the neighboring school district who attends for six hours a day.” 

Researchers have found that full-day programs improve early literacy skills and “‘crowd out’ other negative activities, meaning if children are in a safe classroom environment, they are not spending that same time doing other things that could be less beneficial to their development.”

In addition: “parents often favor full-day kindergarten because it aligns better with their work schedules than half-day programs.”

In Massachusetts, there has been a substantial increase in full-day kindergarten enrollment, from 29 percent of children in 2000 to 92 percent in the current 2014-2015 school year, as we explain in a fact sheet.

Despite this impressive growth, there are still troubling disparities.

Of the 313 school districts in the commonwealth that offer kindergarten: 308 have at least one full-day classroom, and 243 have district-wide full-day programs.

Five districts — Carlisle, Concord, Needham, Tewksbury, and Wayland — do not offer full-day kindergarten at all. Overall, 8 percent of Massachusetts’ kindergarteners (some 5,600 children) are enrolled in half-day programs.

While most full-day kindergarten programs are free, 72 districts charge an average of $3,383 per year, ranging from $995 in Winchester to $4,970 in Groton-Dunstable.

And as our fact sheet says, investments in full-day kindergarten have varied. “Funding for the Kindergarten Development Grant line item peaked at $33.8 million in FY08 and has since been reduced to $23.95 million at the start of FY15, and $18.59 million after mid-year ‘9C’ budget cuts.”

Because of these cuts, “grant funding per classroom has decreased steadily from $14,900 in FY08 to $11,252 in FY12, an amount that supports on average 10.5% of the cost of a full-day kindergarten classroom.”

As these kindergarten grant amounts have decreased in recent years, “some grantee districts have raised tuition rates.”

Governor Baker’s FY 16 budget proposal eliminates the full-day kindergarten grant program. If this grant is not funded in the final budget, it will be difficult for all current full-day kindergarten communities to continue to offer full-day programs.

Because the House and Senate budgets will be released in April and May, it’s critical to ask the Legislature to restore the full-day kindergarten grant. Contact your legislators today and tell them about the impact this cut could have in your district.

For more information on full-day kindergarten, go to our Briefs and Resources webpage.

As Lieberman explains, full-day kindergarten is a key piece of the early education puzzle. Full days create opportunities for children to learn and grow. And these programs are also a crucial part of the kinds of strong birth-through-8-year-old systems that children need so that they can do well at every step of the way in their development.