All Day, everyday kindergarten returning? State announces funding

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Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has announced that the state will fully fund full-day kindergarten for any child who wants it.

Governor Daniels made the announcement last week, citing that the state is finally expecting an upswing in tax revenues; and the Governor said that $150 million of that upswing will be used to increase school funding in grades K-12.

About 25-percent of that money will be used to complete the funding of full day kindergarten.

The state offered full-day kindergarten in the late 1990s under then-Governor Frank O’Bannon; and after state funding went away, Governor Daniels has been seeking a way to restore it since he was elected to his first term in 2004.

Also targeted in the additional money for schools is a smaller fund that will help school districts give merit pay increases to teachers under the new performance evaluation system; with the rest going into the school funding formula to help all schools.

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Although she is happy with the announcement, Switzerland County School Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones is still approaching the announcement with caution.

“It’s a good sign, but it’s important to remember that the money isn’t here yet,” Dr. Jones said. “We will proceed cautiously with plans to implement the program is the funding does come through, but there’s no final decision made at this time.”

She points to information provided by the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, which stated:

“It is important to note that if this is added to the next state biennial budget, it will add $150 million over the biennium. What this will do is increase the current $58.5 million full day kindergarten grant by approximately $19 million per year. Even though the press releases state that this money will be ‘used to complete the extension of full day kindergarten’, these new dollars may not “fully” fund full day kindergarten for every school corporation.”

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“I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble,” the superintendent said. “I think we will get kindergarten monies, I’m cautiously optimistic until the matter moves further along in the state legislature.”

Dr. Jones said that currently the school corporation offers kindergarten five days a week, but only half of the children come on the off days because they are Title I children. While it will make a difference for our corporation, it will make a difference for only about half of the children.”

So, Dr. Jones said that if there are 20 children in a class, approximately 10 of those already go to kindergarten five days a week; with the others going three days per week.

Would full day kindergarten create space issues in the elementary schools?

“The classroom is already being used five days a week,” Dr. Jones said. “Now it will effect us, absolutely, but I’m still not sure how it will all play out yet, because I’ll have to see how we’re going to merge the Title I funds with the other.”

And teachers?

“It might help as far as not having to RIF teachers and that sort of thing, but again, we’ve not gotten any directive from the state yet on that.”

Dr. Jones said that she does think that the full time kindergarten will occur, noting that 75-percent of schools in the state already offer full-day kindergarten or have parents paying extra for it. I think we probably will get money for that, so I’m going to develop a plan and be cautiously optimistic as to how I can implement the plan.”

The superintendent said that she expects the state to hold a meeting with school officials to work out details on the proposal, so she doesn’t know how it will affect non-Title I students here.

“I believe it will come about,” she said. “I’m going to plan for it, but I believe that the state will send us additional directives, because for us it will be tied to Title I. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but the Governor has said he wants to push that through.”

One big positive for parents will be the reduced cost of childcare. If kindergarten students are in school all day, five days per week, it will mean less childcare costs for parents, which in turn could also stimulate the economy.