All-day kindergarten options vary
ST. PAUL -- So you say you'd like to see statewide all-day, every-day kindergarten, huh? Well, take your pick. Legislators on Wednesday were shown options ranging from a $143 million across-the-board system to a less costly version that calls for...
ST. PAUL -- So you say you'd like to see statewide all-day, every-day kindergarten, huh?
Well, take your pick.
Legislators on Wednesday were shown options ranging from a $143 million across-the-board system to a less costly version that calls for participating families to pay a fee on a sliding scale.
Rep. Paul Marquardt, DFL-Dilworth, said he'll back legislation that goes "all the way," calling the current state of affairs in kindergarten funding "inexcusable."
"We have a hodgepodge system in kindergarten around the state," Marquardt said following a House Education Finance Committee meeting. "That's really unfortunate when all the research this year shows the best investment is in the early grades."
Half-day kindergarten is the norm because the state pays about half as much for kindergarten students as other students in the K-12 program.
Supporters of all-day, every-day kindergarten may find a difficult audience in Gov. Tim Pawlenty if a fully instituted version of the program makes it to his desk. The Republican governor hasn't opposed the program, but has criticized the cost.
In his State of the State speech, Pawlenty told legislators he'd be more willing to reach for the signing pen than the veto stamp if performance-based incentives are provided.
Other all-day, every-day kindergarten options considered during the meeting included a phased-in approach and a modified comprehensive plan tagged at $137 million.
That less-expensive version trims about $6 million by eliminating preparedness programs for first-graders, but clears the way to fund all-day, every-day kindergarten at private schools.
While support for the concept seemed ubiquitous among legislators on the panel, not everyone at the hearing sang the program's praises.
"I just want to caution you in your zeal to do good that there may be unintended consequences," of all-day, every-day kindergarten, said Karen Effrem of EdWatch.
She cited an early childhood study that she said shows little incentive to strive for all-day, every-day kindergarten.
"They found little meaningful difference between full-day and half-day kindergarten," Effrem told lawmakers.
Marquardt didn't dismiss her information, but noted that it didn't address closing the gap between low-achieving students and high achievers.
All-day, every-day kindergarten accomplishes that, St. Peter schools Superintendent Jeffrey Olson told legislators. The program has been instituted in his district, where Olson said the benefits are widespread.
Still, he said, all-day, every-day kindergarten isn't cheap. Olson said it runs his district about $210,000 a year.
Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, offered his help.
Noting that a southeast Minnesota school district had to abandon the program, he declared that "we need to do it statewide."
"We're seeing cases like that," Heidgerken said, "with school districts that can't afford it."
Lawmakers took no action on the proposals Wednesday, and won't, until other committees have a look at it, Chairwoman Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said.
Mike Longaecker works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.