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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

Monroe County Schools plan for full-day kindergarten

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Several months after lawmakers in Lansing enacted changes in the funding formula for kindergarten, some area school districts are moving to upgrade the students to full-time status.

Next year's kindergartners at Ida Public Schools will attend school for the whole day instead of just a half day.

Superintendent Marvin Dick said the change, approved by the board of education last month, was made to get an early jump on legislation that will result in funding changes for school systems beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

While the legislation, which was included in the state aid act for school funding, doesn't mandate all-day kindergarten, it does reduce per-pupil funding for districts that have half-day sessions.

Educators believe that students who attend kindergarten for a longer day tend to do better than children attending half-day programs and show stronger academic gains in kindergarten.

Taking kindergarten to full time will mean extra costs to districts, as more teachers and aides will be needed. Also, classroom space must be freed up, and more classroom materials likely will be needed.

Funding was among the considerations by the Ida school officials, but Mr. Dick said the education benefits from having kindergartners in school for a full day also were among the board's concerns.

"If all-day kindergarten is better for the kids, then we are going to do it," he said.

Under Michigan law, 5 year olds can attend kindergarten but are not required to do so. Children must enroll within the school year of their 6th birthday if it falls before Dec. 1. If their birthdays are after Dec. 1, they must enroll the following year.

Schools receive the same state funding per pupil for kindergarten students as for students in the upper grades.

But that will change in 2010, when the youngsters must be at school for 60 percent of the day for schools to receive full funding. The kindergartners must attend school for 70 percent of the day in 2011 to get the full per-pupil state funding.

Schools were given two years to phase in the all-day programs. However, there are no plans to provide more money to districts to fund full-day sessions.

Jon White, superintendent of Bedford Local Schools, said paying for more teachers, classrooms, and materials for full-day sessions at a time when revenue for districts is tight will be difficult.

"The state wants school districts to expand kindergarten to full-time, but it doesn't want to give us money to do it," Mr. White said.

Each of the five elementary schools in Bedford offers one full-time kindergarten class in addition to half-day sessions, and an additional full-time kindergarten is held at Smith Road Elementary for students who can't into the schools in their districts.

The Summerfield Schools' board of education Monday gave the go-ahead to start a full-day, every day kindergarten program in the next school year.

Jack Hewitt, superintendent of the Petersburg area school district, said last week that he planned to recommend adoption of the longer sessions.

"Even though there will be additional expenses financially, such as hiring another teacher, we are going to bite the bullet on all-day kindergarten," he said.

One school district in Monroe County with full-day kindergarten is Erie Township's Mason Consolidated Schools. The district began a full-day program in 2003.

Lindy Buch, director of the office of early childhood education and family services for the Michigan Education Department, said about half the state's 781 school districts, which include public and charter schools, provide full-day kindergartens.

"An increasing number of school districts have gone to full-day kindergarten over the years," she said. A lot of school districts have full-day sessions for at-risk students."

Monroe Public Schools has full-day kindergarten for at-risk students and offers all-day sessions in certain elementary buildings that are open to children throughout the district.

Chris Butler, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said future changes facing the district under the new law likely will cause Monroe Public Schools to expand the program. "My guess is that we will be offering more full-time kindergarten opportunities. But, I don't know if we will be able to offer it districtwide," she said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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