For several years now, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has been ahead of the curve in providing full-day kindergarten programs. In the previous school year, for instance, there was only one first-grader enrolled at local elementary schools who had not attended kindergarten.
The school corporation has been able to provide this opportunity for its constituents due largely to a long-standing commitment to early education and an aggressive approach in attracting grants and other funding to supplement the amount granted by the state. Prior to this year, only those families not on lunch assistance programs were required to pay a weekly fee of $30 for kindergarten.
At the beginning of this school year, all school districts in the state were given access to additional funding to pay for kindergarten programs. The new funding formula provided districts with an additional $2,400 per student based on average daily membership for kindergarten-eligible children. That coupled with the $2,600 already provided under the existing funding formula raised the amount paid for each kindergarten student to $5,000, approximately $200 less than the average for students in the first through 12th grades.
The added kindergarten funding is available to those districts that agree to stop charging families for the program. That can be a pretty expensive proposition in some school corporations. For instance, the Center Grove school district in Johnson County was able to drop the full-day fees, which were $1,827 a year.
The added funding is still only temporary at this point. It will be up to the incoming Indiana General Assembly to either continue or discontinue the practice.
There is no way on a statewide basis to immediately gauge the success of full-day programs, especially since this is only the first year of the enhanced formula. However, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. could be a role model in that full-day kindergarten programs have been available in most local schools for several years. Tracking studies locally have indicated significant increases in readiness skills for local kindergarten-schooled children, especially those on the assisted lunch program.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly will work with a new state superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, and new governor, Mike Pence, to determine whether schools will receive more or less money for full-day programs. The legislative session will start Monday, and lawmakers will draft and approve a two-year budget and other legislation.
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said he plans to focus on jobs and education during his term and wants to work with legislators to determine funding that leads to success in both areas.
Attending kindergarten isn’t mandatory in Indiana, but public schools are required to offer some kind of kindergarten program to eligible students. The state Legislature’s decision to increase funding for full-day kindergarten has led to a 19 percent increase in students enrolling in kindergarten programs across the state, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
This increase in enrollment alone should help youngsters be better prepared for first grade.
Legislators should look to corporations like BCSC and its proven track record in assessing whether to continue the added kindergarten funding. Given the success locally, the benefits of making that funding permanent across the state should be evident.