Area school administrators agree there are many benefits for children to be enrolled in an all-day, everyday kindergarten program.
Then there is the ever present issue of having to fund it.
State Representative Randy Gardner last week offered sponsor testimony for a bill he introduced in November that would exempt districts from a requirement in the state’s biennium budget for all-day kindergarten and what he says are other unfunded mandates.
“The state operating budget has already cut state aid to school funding by $497 million, and these mandates will only further the financial burden of many school districts during this economic turmoil,” he said.
His bill, HB 366, directs the Ohio School Funding Advisory Council to identify unfunded or underfunded school mandates enacted in the budget. A member of the council, Rep. Gardner says he’s already raised concerns at the panel’s first meeting.
“Under the new biennial budget, every school district for the first time in decades saw a significant cut to their funding. When enacted, my legislation will allow each school district’s board of education to decide if they can adopt the new education regulations, taking into account each district’s budgetary constraints,” Gardner said.
Brent Welker, superintendent of Eastwood schools, said his district will ask for a waiver from the state to not be forced to implement a full-time kindergarten program for the 2010-11 school year.
He estimates a program would cost about $100,000 a year. In the meantime, Eastwood officials are projecting state revenues to the district will remain flat or drop for at least six years.
“How can we be expected to add costs with no new funding? We can’t,” he says in his newsletter to district residents. Otherwise, he describes himself as a “huge proponent” of all-day kindergarten.
Districts that ask for waivers are still required to submit a plan for an all-day program to the Ohio Department of Education for the 2011-12 school year.
“Right now there is no plan (for Eastwood),” Welker said. “My response might be considered a little defiant, but I am tired of unfunded mandates and intend to fight this.”
Luckey Elementary School doesn’t have the space to house two sections of kindergarten classes, he said, adding the administration plans to move the current pre-school class to Webster school next year to accommodate one kindergarten room and two sections of grades one through five.
According to Welker, an additional classroom at the Luckey building would require a portable building and Pemberville Elementary School faces similar space problems.
The state budget bill allows districts that provided tuition-based all-day kindergarten during the 2008-09 school year to continue charging tuition through the 2010-11 school year but tuition rates can’t exceed rates charged in 2008-09.
No district may charge a tuition fee for providing all-day, everyday kindergarten classes starting with 2011-12 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Districts must offer the same number of hours for kindergarten as they provide for first through sixth grade classes. Parents of kindergartners, however, may opt to have their children enrolled half of the time.
The Genoa School District has been offering all-day, everyday kindergarten classes for about 12 years. Prior to that, the district had an all-day, every-other-day kindergarten format.
Superintendent Dennis Mock estimates it costs the district about $250,000 annually to pay for five full-time teachers . That doesn’t include the costs for outfitting the classrooms and related expenses.
“Our feeling is the more time we can get with students at a younger age it’s better for their processing skills,” he said.
About 100 Genoa students are enrolled in kindergarten classes this year.
Asked if the new budget bill provision was an unfunded mandate, Mock said, “It truly is.”
Lake program in 2nd year
Lake schools have been offering everyday kindergarten classes for two years.
District treasurer Jeff Carpenter said three teachers were added to the staff, costing the district about $150,000-$200,000 a year for the program.
He’s skeptical the state can provide funding for districts that will have to add everyday kindergarten classes.
“This state budget for education includes about 6.5 to 7 percent federal stimulus dollars,” Carpenter said. “The state economy is going to have to grow to make that up when the federal dollars aren’t there. What are the chances of that?”
The Lake school board debated offering an everyday kindergarten program for “a long time,” he said, and ultimately decided the benefits outweighed the costs.
Much research indicates children from low-income and single-parent households in particular appear to benefit from everyday kindergarten, Carpenter said.
Gov. Ted Strickland based his budget proposal on what’s called an “evidence-based model” for funding education programs.
The governor in May said his reform plan for schools uses the model to try to meet unique needs of individual students by funding what the “best available educational research tells us matters most to …student success while requiring strict spending accountability from schools.”
He cited a study by the Ohio-based Knowledge Works Foundation which claimed the per-pupil weighted funding system lacks a mechanism to ensure money will be spent on what works in the classroom.