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PUSD adds free, all-day kindergarten for 2016-17

In this file photo, second-grader Joe Sarti gives his brother Nathan a hug on his first day of kindeåoln Elementary School as Prescott Unified School District begins the 2015-2016 school year.
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

In this file photo, second-grader Joe Sarti gives his brother Nathan a hug on his first day of kindeåoln Elementary School as Prescott Unified School District begins the 2015-2016 school year.

PRESCOTT – Starting next fall, all kindergarten students in the quad-cities will have free, all-day classes, after a decision by the governing board at Prescott Unified School District last week.

Chino Valley and Humboldt school districts already offer free, all-day kindergarten, and Prescott Unified School District currently offers all-day kindergarten on a tuition basis.

The district covers the cost of morning classes, and kids can receive instruction in the afternoon at an annual cost of $1,750.

Kindergarten teachers from around the district made the case Tuesday, Feb. 16, to the governing board for free, full-day classes for all students.

“Those kids who aren’t here all day are hurting,” said Rachel Chunglo, a kindergarten teacher at Abia Judd Elementary School.

She pointed to research that shows students who attend all-day kindergarten have higher academic success in their early elementary school years.

But she was quick to point out that those who benefit most are students who come from lower-income families.

It’s a trend that holds true for pre-kindergarten education too, and is one of the reasons cited in support of programs like PUSD’s Discovery Gardens preschool program and federal programs like Head Start.

Chunglo said the tuition model in place means those students whose families can’t afford tuition for full-day classes are those who would benefit most from having them.

Shelley Soifer, a kindergarten teacher at Taylor Hicks Elementary School, said many of the students who leave mid-day go from the school to a place without a mid-day meal and without the attention their peers receive in all-day classes.

“We are our students’ safe place,” Soifer said.

Superintendent Joe Howard said education experts across the nation have already demonstrated the benefits of all-day kindergarten.

Not only does research point to better academic success for full-day kindergarten students, but parents generally support it because it lines up with other school and work schedules.

Howard said the question for board members was how to pay for it.

Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dickerson said offering all-day kindergarten will cost the district about $230,000 more per year than the current half-day program.

He suggested a temporary revenue source that could pay for free, full-day kindergarten costs is the district’s portion of forest fees provided by the federal Secure Rural Schools Act – funds the federal government pays in lieu of property taxes on U.S. Forest Service lands.

PUSD’s portion of forest fees monies is about $200,000, Dickerson said. The district has previously used the funds for technology upgrades, but the funds are generally unrestricted.

“That money is guaranteed for another year,” Howard said. “It’s not always guaranteed from year to year.”

The governing board agreed to use forest fees to offset most of the additional costs of all-day kindergarten in 2016-17.

They noted that expanding to all-day kindergarten will likely result in increased enrollment from students whose parents would have taken them to a neighboring district for a free, all-day program.

The decision does not impact the tuition for students currently enrolled.

“The amount you currently pay for fees for the remainder of this year is still due,” Lincoln Elementary School Principal Karen Bruso wrote Monday in an email to parents.

Dickerson said starting in the 2017-18 school year, the district will need to fund the program from its general maintenance and operations budget.

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