Spokane Public Schools’ board decided Wednesday to offer full-day kindergarten in all 34 of its elementary schools starting this fall.
While there are many other budget items left to discuss, the school board voted unanimously to approve full-day kindergarten.
“This is not about our budget, this is about our community,” school board member Rocky Treppiedi said.
Full-day kindergarten is “a priority,” board director Deana Brower said.
The decision involves a commitment of about $3.9 million even though at this point the estimated state funding for full-day kindergarten in the district is only $1.36 million.
Currently, 15 of the district’s highest-poverty schools offer full-day kindergarten. This decision expands the opportunity to 19 more schools and would mean hiring the equivalent of at least 25 full-time teaching positions and possibly 27 other faculty, such as counselors.
Treppiedi had twice proposed that the school board agree to fund full-day kindergarten for all students – an opportunity he considers critical for all students, not just those in low-income areas. Although full-day kindergarten has been considered a priority by several board members, they hesitated because they wanted to know if the money would be coming from the Legislature.
He was pleased with the decision: “It’s a simple decision for me. It’s a direct service to every child.”
Washington’s highest court last year mandated that lawmakers fund basic education, including full-day kindergarten. The Legislature, however, has until 2018 to comply.
Neither the House nor the Senate budget proposal provides enough money for all of Washington’s schools to offer full-day kindergarten next year.
The Senate proposal provides funding to expand all-day kindergarten to 35 percent of all schools by 2014-15. The House is proposing an extra $90 million over the next two years, expanding to 60 percent of schools by 2014-15. Both would give priority to schools with high poverty rates.
Although lawmakers are still in special session wrestling with the budget, school officials are confident that enough additional money will be allocated that the district can afford the expansion of all-day kindergarten.
A recent statewide assessment showed a high percentage of students arrive in kindergarten unprepared, some unable to count to 20.
Studies show an advantage of full-day over half-day kindergarten: Students show significant gains in math and reading by the end of the school year, especially low-income children and second-language learners.
“I think it’s a very beneficial program; at the same time, I don’t think it’s a panacea,” board member Bob Douthitt said. “We have to realize that nationwide, the benefits have been shown to wear off, so it’s really important what you do in third and fourth grade too.”
But when all incoming students went to full-day kindergarten, “first- and second-grade teachers will be able to teach at a higher level,” he said.
Spokane Public Schools started offering full-day kindergarten at five schools in 2007-08 and has added schools every year since.
“This has been a long time coming,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said. “Full-day kindergarten will serve our community well.”