Full-day kindergarten gives students more time to learn in class, more chances to get along with others and more exposure to their school’s building, responsibilities and routines that will become part of their academic lives for the next 12 years and, perhaps, beyond.
And that’s not all.
“There’s a lot less crying,” reports Jeanne Fridell, principal at Woodlawn School, one of eight elementaries in the Lawrence school district with full-day kindergarten. “We don’t have that anymore. It’s a lot less crying, and a lot more laughter.”
Yet while administrators, school board members and many parents agree that offering full-day kindergarten throughout the entire Lawrence school district would be a great idea, few — if any — see much chance of getting the job done anytime soon.
Welcome to the world of financial reality: The program now costs the district about $500,000, all of it financed through revenues restricted to be spent on helping so-called “at-risk” students because of their financial or other demographic characteristics.
Adding full-day kindergarten at the other seven elementary schools where half-day classes are offered would cost another $450,000 on teachers alone, plus another $200,000 or so for materials and furnishings.
That’s real money, at a time when the district doesn’t expect to receive any more money for the next academic year. The standing fear is that board members and administrators will be forced to endure another round of cuts when compiling their budgets, just as they did this past year when they eliminated jobs and cut programs to prevent closing schools while reducing expenses by $4.6 million.
This upcoming budget season, administrators foresee a reduction in revenues that “easily could be another $3 million to $4 million,” said Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer.
Any calls for adding full-day kindergarten services must be balanced against such expectations for reduced revenues, said Rick Doll, district superintendent. And that’s true even if there’s finally room in all elementary schools, as expected, once sixth-graders move up into new middle schools for next year.
“Preliminary figures show that (full-day kindergarten) produces some pretty promising results,” Doll said. “It looks like it’s working. We now have the room. Now it’s a matter of funding.”
“It doesn’t look promising,” he said.
But board members aren’t giving up hope.
As part of their ongoing redesign of the district’s schools — moving freshmen into high schools, turning junior highs into middle schools, and limiting elementaries to kindergarten through fifth grades — board members are pressing administrators to take fresh looks at all programs, to see which ones are the most effective and most efficient.
If full-day kindergarten ends up rating among the district’s best investments — by helping improve academic achievement long-term for students, especially among at-risk groups — then perhaps it could receive money previously channeled to other programs that might be deemed less effective.
Or the district could move to charge some parents tuition for full-day kindergarten. Doll said that a “sliding scale” could be established, allowing students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at all schools to receive full-day kindergarten for “free,” while other parents could choose to pay tuition to have their children attend such full-day classes.
That would be a switch from the current practice. Right now, only students in eight schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney, Prairie Park, Schwegler and Woodlawn — have access to full-day kindergarten, because each of those schools has a relatively high number of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches. That means all students, regardless of economic standing, in those schools have access to full-day kindergarten.
But what if students who didn’t qualify for subsidized lunches were able to enroll in full-day kindergarten only if they paid tuition, on a sliding scale? Then the district could redirect some of those dollars — both received through tuition, and saved by reducing allocations — to other schools, where the same standards could be applied.
Then all 15 elementary schools would have full-day kindergarten, the thinking goes, with some families paying extra while others would not.
“That’s a political change,” Doll said. “It’s a political move, and we’d have to engage our communities and make sure everybody understands.”
Board members haven’t decided to move in that direction, although they intend to discuss the idea as legislators convene in Topeka and the district’s plans for next year take shape.
“There are a lot of people out there that still think that kindergarten is just learning to draw straight lines and color between the lines and whatever,” said Mary Loveland, who has spent 20 years on the Lawrence school board. “There’s a curriculum in there, things that need to be learned. And it’d sure be nice to have a whole day to do it — for every child.”