|Funding: All Day Kindergarten Nears Tipping Point|
3/3/2011 10:45 AM
As more Minnesota schools offer full-day, every-day kindergarten, the
governor has a $33 million plan to help more low-income kids enroll.
Minnesota's march toward all-day kindergarten, fueled to date by school
districts or parents willing to pay extra, would become an option for
more low-income children who can't afford it if Gov. Mark Dayton has his
Dayton has proposed a $33 million plan to fund full-day kindergarten
for low-income students -- the largest piece in his education plan. It
would be the biggest funding boost to kindergarten in a decade.
Minnesota, which funds half-day kindergarten, is one of about a dozen
states without extra funding for full-day programs. Early education
advocates say this latest state push signals that Minnesota is a step
closer to following states such as Wisconsin and North Dakota, where
all-day, every-day kindergarten is state-supported.
"We're nearing the tipping point," said Rep. Mindy Greiling,
D-Roseville. "The time is almost here where it's going to be demanded by
But Dayton's plan could lose out to other priorities for the
Republican-controlled Legislature as the state wrestles with a $5
billion state deficit.
"We're dealing with budget constraints probably worse than at times
we've been considering this issue before," said Sen. Gen Olson,
R-Minnetrista, education committee chair. "We should look carefully at
where we're investing our money so that we are sure the evidence shows
it gets the results."
Even if kindergarten doesn't get state help this year, "we're on that
funding path," said P. Fred Storti, executive director of the Minnesota
Elementary School Principals' Association. "People on both sides of the
aisle are realizing the importance of all-day kindergarten and early
Lag in state funding
In the last five years, more schools have offered all-day, every-day
kindergarten. According to the state, 269 districts and charter schools
out of 417 offer all-day kindergarten this year at no additional cost.
Another 58 districts and charters offer it for a fee.
Studies show that all-day, every-day kindergarten leads to higher
academic achievement, reduced achievement gaps, better student
attendance and faster gains in literacy and language, according to the
For Christy Vaillant, it was an easy choice to pay $330 a month for
her daughter to attend all-day school at Rosemount's Parkview
"I knew she would benefit from it," she said. "I think a lot of
people think full-day is half-day with another half day of babysitting.
Vaillant said her 5-year-old is further along than older siblings who
were in half-day programs, already reading at nearly a second-grade
Even parents such as Nicole McKenzie, who chose not to send her
6-year-old to all-day kindergarten at Lakeville's Crystal Lake
Elementary, say there's a value in extra schooling. It's just not best
for McKenzie's daughter, who she wants home more. "I love spending time
with her," she said.
More districts are recognizing parents want both options.
Last Thursday, St. Louis Park Schools decided to offer a one-year
pilot of free all-day, every-day kindergarten at its elementary school
with the most low-income students. Districts such as St. Paul and
Richfield, helped in part by referendums, have offered free all-day,
every-day kindergarten for years.
Richfield leaders say all-day kindergarten helps retention, which is
key as schools across Minnesota battle to keep and attract students and
state aid that goes with them. Parent demand also prompted
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools to offer full-day kindergarten for a
fee, stopping families from leaving for districts with that option.
In Rockford, leaders decided this year to pay $400 more per student
to offer free all-day, every-day kindergarten, saving $77,000 in busing
costs and adding art, music and gym classes for kindergartners.
"The benefits outweigh the costs significantly," said Superintendent
Paul Durand. "Good educators figure out how to get through the
bureaucracy and do what people want."
Too costly for some districts
Whether districts or the state can afford the full-day programs is still up for debate.
"Achieving a balanced budget and trying to do the best job we can for
education is pretty high on my priority list," Olson said. "If we are
going to make additional expenditures or focus our attention on early
education, where is the best place for getting the best return?"
Pre-kindergarten may be more beneficial to fund, she added, leaving all-day kindergarten funding to districts.
In Burnsville, a six-year University of Minnesota study showed that
all-day, every-day kindergarten eliminated the achievement gap. After
the free one-year program in 2003, students were so far ahead
academically that teachers received extra training in following years to
meet their needs.
But the district hasn't been able to afford it for all kids. It
charges $3,000 a year for the full-day program now, which 42 percent of
kindergartners took part in this year. Districts such as West St.
Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan, Edina, Hopkins and Minnetonka have similar
State data shows that it would cost at least $128 million to fund all-day, every-day kindergarten for all students.
"The more we fund it for the poor kids, the more the other parents will not want to pay for theirs," Greiling said.
Four years ago, a bill to put $106 million more toward kindergarten
failed to get enough support. If legislators nix this year's plan, state
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the push will continue.
"This is actually a core function that we should be providing and
fully supporting as a state," she said. "This push by the governor sets a
whole new priority around it. We need to invest earlier in our
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141