Half-Day vs. Full-Day Kindergarten

Between 2006 and 2010, a great deal of changes were made in K-12 education.  One of those changes in Arizona involved moving from half-day to all-day kindergarten.  Governor Janet Napolitano demanded full-day kindergarten state-wide while those representing education screamed a united voice that changes would require additional funding.  State monies that had already been stretched way beyond acceptable limits were stretched even further to cover the additional costs demanded.  A lot has changed since then, not the least of which is the general economy.  Funding for new programs is nowwhere in sight, and a current deficit of between $1.5 and $3 Billion is what our next legislative session will attempt to tackle.

With funding cuts in 2009 for education, and additional cuts in 2010, it is expected that due to economic conditions, further cuts will be necessary to close the budget deficit.  Because Education currently accounts for over 40% of the state’s general fund, a significant portion of cuts will likely focus there.  Only four general areas account for all but about $500million of the $8-$10 Billion-dollar annual budget.  They are: Education, Health Services, AHCCCS (Arizona’s brand of Medicaid), and Dept. of Corrections. 

The state legislature in 2010 removed funding for full-day kindergarten back to levels sufficient for half-day class time.  However, GPS along with several other school districts have opted to keep full-day kindergarten anyway.  How is this possible without adequate funding?  Didn’t school districts clamor and shout about how they wouldn’t be able to fund the full-day classes originally? 

As it turns out, the reason for funding kindergarten in the Gilbert school district is because Mesa, Chandler, and Higley districts have chosen to keep full-day kindergarten and the current school administration fears that if they didn’t offer it too, parents would take their children outside district boundaries to other schools that offer it.  If this was done, schools would loose 100% of the funding available to them for those students that left instead of just the additional portion they were receiving prior to the recent cuts.  But what’s wrong with that?  If a kindergartner jumps across district lines to attend all-day, he/she leaves behind no requirement to provide resources to teach.  Thus, GPS scales resources to fit the demand.  So, out of fear of losing the ‘standard’ funding, GPS is willing to operate at a loss which must be subsidized from some other area of education funding to provide the resources required.  The fear extends beyond kindergarten.  Administrators are worried that students who leave for all-day kindergarten will remain in those districts long-term.  Again, what’s wrong with that?  Isn’t class size an issue?  Administrators love to pull out the studies that show that lower class sizes are more conducive to proper learning.  So why does this argument suddenly seem hollow when lower class sizes appears imminent?

Isn’t all this academic anyway? While the long-term benefits of half-day vs. all-day kindergarten are largely debatable as study after study appears to carve out a new viewpoint only to be put down by another study with statistics that contradict, the argument here isn’t whether all-day kindergarten should exist at all.  There’s a very peaceful way of providing both, doing so in a financially responsible way, and providing the greatest amount of choice to parents all at the same time… a win/win/win solution.  It would look something like this: FIRST, funding for half-day kindergarten remains intact, GPS should continue to plan on providing it.  This is the default or “standard” model.  SECOND, an all-day alternative can then be offered to parents who feel so inclined as to take advantage of the program for whatever reasons they feel justified.  Some believe that the program provides academic advantage which is typically universally accepted through at least the 5th grade.  Some take advantage of the program because there are two wage earners in their household and all-day kindergarten makes the whole issue of day-care much easier to cope with.  THIRD, for a per student fee, that covers the extra costs associated with the program, districts can continue to provide what parents desire.  They can keep their child in kindergarten longer.  If there aren’t enough students taking advantage of the all-day program, the district could select a school to concentrate greater numbers and focus the program there.  This is what’s being done now with half-day.  What’s not fair about that?

In the end, all that needs to change is a flip-flop of the ‘standard’ model.  Make half-day the standard with all-day as an option.  Thus funding issues are resolved, and parents can choose what they believe is best for their child.

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