A year without all-day kindergarten in Lawrence public schools has been enough to make educators and parents yearn for its return.
But despite being a potent tool for improving elementary school math and reading test scores, a full-day program won't resurface for the same reason it was removed from five Lawrence schools a year ago: no money.
"It's beyond our means right now," Supt. Randy Weseman said Monday. "But, as a person who has to look over the whole system, I see it as a gear that is not in place."
Under the current system, the district's 650 kindergartners go for a half-day every day. Hiring enough teachers to put in place an all-day program at the district's 15 elementary schools would cost about $800,000, Weseman said. The cost of renovating or adding kindergarten classroom space is unknown.
With new federal testing standards for elementary students in reading and math putting pressure on districts to boost student achievement, there is interest in attacking stress points in the chain of learning.
Boosts test scores
Alexa Pochowski, assistant commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, said expanding the school day for students who enroll in kindergarten with little or no literacy skills would increase district scores on those standardized exams years later.
"The disadvantaged kids can pull up," Pochowski said. "They need more time."
Last year, 57 percent of Kansas kindergarten classes, including those in Lawrence, Baldwin, De Soto and Ottawa, were half-day programs. In Lawrence, kindergartners are in school three hours daily.
Thirty-seven percent of Kansas kindergarten students were in all-day programs. That list includes students in McLouth, Topeka, Oskaloosa, Dodge City and most of those in Wichita.
The other students in Kansas were in full-day or half-day programs every other day.
"Really miss it"
Teachers and parents in the Lawrence district miss the all-day program, said Terry Tuckwin, the kindergarten teacher at Woodlawn School.
"The people who had it, I know by talking to those kindergarten teachers, definitely wish they had it again. The parents who had it really miss it," she said.
Many kindergarten teachers favor the full-day program because they find it difficult to balance cognitive and social goals for children in a short day.
"One of my concerns is we have in the last five years got more and more curriculum at the kindergarten level, with no more time to do it in," Tuckwin said. "You feel like you're meeting yourself coming and going."
Working parents appreciate the benefits of a full-day kindergarten schedule, because it reduces the number of transitions their children experience each day.
Opponents of full-day kindergarten argue that half-day programs provide a high-quality experience. They also feel a child's attention span is more suited to a half-day of class, and that children become overly tired during a full day of instruction.
Tuckwin led a study group in 2001 that recommended expansion of Lawrence's all-day program to Woodlawn and Pinckney schools. At that time, she said, it was clear all the district's elementary schools would benefit from full-day kindergarten.
Instead, the school board voted to help resolve a budget crisis by dropping the district's all-day programs at Kennedy, East Heights, New York, Riverside and Cordley schools.
Cordley Principal Kim Bodensteiner said losing the full-day class forced teachers to streamline presentation of the curriculum.
"We had been able to concentrate on reading, literacy and language arts the whole morning," she said. "Now, we have to shorten that up to half the morning so we can do math and specials (art, music, gym) in half a day."
Cordley teachers also did away with a computer-based reading program for kindergartners struggling with the written word.
"There is simply not time to do it," Bodensteiner said.
In Kansas, kindergarten isn't required of students. The state provides funding to districts for only a half-day program.
For the past several years, the state Board of Education has encouraged lawmakers to provide funding for full-day kindergarten.
Weseman said he was hopeful the money would be found some day to finance all-day kindergarten throughout the state.
"Maybe in better times," he said.