Local school districts return to fee-based, all-day kindergarten

Prescott, Humboldt, and Chino Valley schools districts will charge $10 per day per student for all-day kindergarten for the 2010-11 school year.

The new fee-based all-day kindergarten is the result of the Arizona Legislature's decision to no longer pay for all-day kindergarten in its effort to balance the state's budget.

Fee-based all-day kindergarten is nothing new. The state has paid for all-day kindergarten for only the past three years. Before that time, the state paid for half-day kindergarten and parents paid for the second half of the school day.

To offer all-day kindergarten, school district officials must find a way to pay the difference between what the state is providing for half-day kindergarten and the cost of all-day kindergarten.

The only solution is to return to fee-based kindergarten.

The state's decision to eliminate payments for all-day kindergarten will cost Chino Valley School District $439,000; Prescott School District $816,000; and Humboldt School District $1,150,000.

To keep their littlest students in school all day, with certified teachers, district officials determined they must charge $10 per day, per student, to pay teacher salaries and buy supplies.

The question arises, if the state will only pay for half-day kindergarten, is it important for 5-year-olds to attend school all day? Is there a benefit to all-day kindergarten?

For administrators and teachers, the answers are yes.

"Full-day kindergarten is the foundation block for young students to get the core education they need," HUSD Superintendent Dr. Henry Schmitt said. "Plus, it is the foundation for retention; children who attend full-day kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school."

HUSD will charge a flat $10 for all-day kindergarten with no variables for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

PUSD, on the other hand, will charge $10 per day, per student, "with exceptions. If students qualify for free or reduced lunch, they would pay a reduced rate. In cases of extreme hardship, the fee could be waived completely," said Superintendent Kevin Kapp.

A January survey showed that parents at three of the five PUSD elementary schools would be willing to pay for all-day kindergarten.

To provide all-day kindergarten to as many students as possible, PUSD is introducing a "district-wide program, instead of a site-based program. All the all-day fees will go into one district fund to be distributed to all schools," Kapp said.

According to Kapp, school administrators have agreed to use tax credit money, if necessary, to help pay the cost of all-day kindergarten.

"I think we can use tax credit money because since the state is only paying for half-day kindergarten, anything else is extra-curricular," Kapp said.

The kindergarten team at Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott will be happy to learn that the district is staffing all-day kindergarten with certified teachers.

As the district discussed how to pay for the all-day program, officials considered creating an "enrichment program" staffed with para-professionals instead of certified teachers at half the cost.

The K-team said certified teachers are trained to teach the state's kindergarten standards.

"Studies show that students in all-day kindergarten are better equipped to move forward," teacher Micaela Janowski said.

Teacher Bronwyn Butterfield thinks the elimination of all-day kindergarten is a "major step backward in regard to what children learn. We don't want to give up something that took so long to get here."

The teachers noted that students learn in kindergarten what they once learned in first grade.

According to Abia Judd Principal Larry Peterson, "All-day kindergarten is good for all kids. As a public school, do we offer full-day kindergarten to parents who can afford it?"

Kapp said parents who can afford the fee would help pay for the parents who could not afford the fee.

Despite continuing to offer all-day kindergarten, all of the districts are looking at a possible reduction in kindergarten teachers. However, the reduction is not totally related to half-day or full-day kindergarten.

CVUSD Superintendent Duane Noggle said declining enrollment would contribute to a reduction in teaching jobs.

Kapp added, "Due to enrollment, we may have to reduce kindergarten sections, but no positions will be lost due to funding."

HUSD officials project the loss of 6.5 kindergarten teachers. Schmitt said that depending on enrollment, the district could "fund a shuttle to the all-day fee-based kindergarten at one or two schools."

Just as half-day kindergarten is currently an option for students, all-day kindergarten is an option for next year.

"Most likely we will have sections of full-day and sections of half-day kindergarten depending on the requests," Noggle said.

Administrators, however, believe in the benefit of all-day kindergarten.

"As a district, we feel all-day kindergarten is valuable for the development of a child and having certified teachers to teach the program is the best environment for the child," said Kapp.

Schmitt said he would "give anything to keep full-day kindergarten. Research shows that these little people are ready to hit it."