Five-year-old Momo Sutton made quick work of shopping for school supplies at Target last week. No indecision for the soon-to-be Southside Elementary School kindergartner as she selected pencils, scissors, crayons and other classroom necessities.
“She is very excited about kindergarten,” mother Sandy Sutton of Columbus said, as she watched Momo carefully eye the displays and test the scissors to see how they worked.
Sutton supports a move by the state to provide funding to allow all kindergartners to attend full-day programs without added costs to parents. She sees it as providing the best education option for children.
“It’s good that Indiana made this change so full-day kindergarten is available for all the children, not just some of them,” she said. “Every child deserves the benefit of an equal education.”
For the first time this school year, all Indiana kindergartners can attend a full day of school this fall on the state’s tab.
Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill in March that approved $80 million in funding for full-day kindergarten to school districts for the 2012-13 year. The Indiana General Assembly approved the amount in its budget but will have to revisit the issue during the 2013 session to determine if funding will continue.
School superintendents in Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek districts, however, said they support full-day programs and will continue offering the option to parents no matter what level of funding the state provides.
In BCSC, almost 800 kindergartners attended full-day programs last year, with only about 20 choosing the half-day programs. In FRHC, all of the district’s approximately 70 kindergarten students took part in full-day classes.
Similar numbers are expected in the districts this year, although maybe about 50 fewer in BCSC depending on the number of last-minute enrollees.
With little change anticipated in the number of students, officials from both school districts did not expect to have to hire more teachers or expand classrooms to accommodate more students.
BCSC parents will be the ones noticing a real impact on their wallets. Families who didn’t qualify for free- or reduced-priced lunches had to pay $30 a week in past years if they wanted their child to attend a full-day program.
Full-day kindergarten has been offered at BCSC for about the past 20 years, said Teresa Heiny, the school district’s director of elementary education. It was offered free to students whose families met income requirements for free- or reduced-priced lunches for the first time about six years ago.
BCSC Superintendent John Quick said that in the past, the state gave the district about $2,600 per kindergartner, enough to pay for a half-day of school. This year, the state has pledged to give an additional $2,400 — $5,000 total — per student enrolled in a full-day kindergarten program during the 2012-13 school year. Quick said this will cover close to the $5,200 cost that BCSC budgets for every kindergarten through 12th-grade student’s education.
“We’re happy to have it,” he said. “That generates more dollars than the $30 per week that we had been charging. ... This is a win for families and a win for our budget.”
Quick said the school district will absorb whatever additional costs it takes to provide full-day kindergarten for its students, which is what it has done in past years. Students’ families still will have to pay any activities or book fees, he said.
Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. Superintendent Kathy Griffey said the extra kindergarten money from the state will be a big help with the school budget. To fund full-day kindergarten at no cost to families, FRHC was using the district’s general fund to pay the difference between its full state tuition rate of $5,675 per first- through 12th-grader and the half-rate of $2,837.50 for kindergartners.
The new state funding for full-day kindergarten will give Flat Rock-Hawcreek $5,237.50 per kindergartner, shrinking the cost gap to $437.50 per student, which Griffey said the district will absorb.
She said the issue, however, is much more than just dollar savings.
“I think the real benefit is what we’re going to be able to do for students, getting them prepared for first grade and its more rigorous curriculum,” she said.
Heiny said the kindergarten curriculum has changed drastically from what most parents remember about their experiences.
“Kindergarten is more like what first grade was,” she said.
Last school year, the state adopted common core standards outlining what students should know by the end of kindergarten, such as reading comprehension and the ability to discuss what they’ve read, counting and naming, writing and sounding out upper- and lower-case letters.
BCSC students who last year attended half-day programs were in the same classroom as full-day students, but they left at midday, missing out on extra learning and enrichment activities in the afternoons that helped reinforce morning academic lessons.
Although kindergarten is not mandatory in Indiana, the vast majority of parents choose to send their children to public or private programs. Quick estimated fewer than 10 kindergarten-age children in BCSC’s district did not attend any type of kindergarten program last year.
Schools officials said 5- and 6-year-olds can reap academic rewards from participating in all-day kindergarten with structured programs, and they hope state funding will continue.
“We are committed to full-day kindergarten,” Quick said. “I’m pretty confident that this is a priority with our legislature (too).”
“At this point and time, there’s no consideration to (take away) full-day, every-day kindergarten,” Griffey said.
State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said he believes strongly in full-day kindergarten and is confident the legislature will continue to provide funding in years ahead.
“We need to do all we can to help these children be successful and not let them fall behind,” Smith said.
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