Almost every public forum, questionnaire or online chat involving candidates for the Lawrence school board this spring included a question about all-day kindergarten.
Although some opposition to such a program has been voiced in Lawrence, there obviously was considerable interest in providing all-day kindergarten for local youngsters. All four of the school board members elected earlier this month said they supported at least an optional full-day kindergarten program for the district's elementary schools.
Now comes a statewide report that seems to confirm that Lawrence and Douglas County have some catching up to do when it comes to early childhood education and specifically all-day kindergarten.
The 2007 Kansas Kids Count report, issued this week by Kansas Action for Children, shows that Douglas County is well behind the statewide curve on all-day kindergarten. The only elementary schools in the county that have such a program are in Eudora; that's just 4.35 percent of the county's elementary schools.
Statewide, 60 percent of elementary schools have all-day kindergarten. In the state's five "urban" counties, of which Douglas County is one, 53 percent of schools have all-day kindergarten.
These figures should get the attention of officials in the Lawrence district, where none of the elementary schools has all-day kindergarten.
That wasn't always the case. For a number of years, all-day kindergarten was offered at Cordley, Kennedy, New York, Riverside and East Heights schools, based on the number of children of low-income families attending those schools. When the statewide budget crunch hit, however, those programs were scaled back to a half-day format in the fall of 2001. Since that time, district officials have talked about reinstating the program, but have run into various roadblocks, primarily financial.
Last May, board members voted not to pursue all-day kindergarten in any schools because of funding and the problem of running a parallel half-day kindergarten program for families who preferred that option. As a result, not even children enrolled in the district's full-day preschool program have the option of continuing in a full-day kindergarten.
Finding money for expanded kindergarten won't be easy, but it's all a matter of priorities. It's fairly well accepted in education circles that money spent on programs for young children is a good investment because such programs increase student success in later years and reduce the need for remedial programs.
There may not be a perfect way to address this need in Lawrence, but it seems there surely is a better way. As Rich Minder, a school board member and coordinator for the local Success by Six Coalition pointed out, more than half of the public schools in Douglas County's peer counties have found a way to do it.
We don't think they care any more about their children than we care about ours, so it must be time for Lawrence to give a higher priority to this important issue.