Here’s why Ohio should invest in all-day kindergarten
Posted on 10/18/16 in Education & Training
Talk to an educator or policymaker about elementary and secondary education in the United States and before long you’ll hear it referred to as “K-12.” The United States is not alone in maintaining a public education system that runs from kindergarten through grade 12, thus making kindergarten the foundation for the rest of a student’s academic life.
However, there seems to be a difference of opinion within the United States about how strong that foundation should be.
Nationally, there has been a clear trend toward making the base year of education as strong as possible by offering a full day of kindergarten. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of students enrolled in all-day K went from 28 percent in 1977 to 77 percent in 2013. But states have taken different approaches on how much to invest in all-day K.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proposed an $80 million plan that would allow all kindergarten students to attend full-day programs. Washington state lawmakers added $50 million to spending on full-day kindergarten in 2014, doubling the number of students eligible for that option. And the state expects to offer full-day kindergarten to all students by 2017-18. In 2013, Minnesota set aside $134 million so that all districts could offer full-day kindergarten to all students.
It’s a mixed bag in Ohio. Some districts receive full per-pupil funding for kindergarten, but the majority do not. This forces many districts to face difficult questions today. Do we offer all-day K to our students and families? If so, how much do we charge for it?
Increasing academic expectations, such as those inherent with the Common Core standards and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, have pushed more and more districts to say “Yes” to the first question, leaving the most challenging decision for the second one. It also has Ohio school leaders asking what the state’s obligation should be.
I’d like to offer the experience in my school district, North Olmsted City School District, as a possible microcosm for this conundrum. Our conversation started with Ohio’s adoption of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee --- and an agreement that a child should be reading at grade level by that critical juncture.
The first question then became what could we do, or change, to meet those requirements? The discussion rapidly moved toward the importance of expanding learning time in kindergarten. Our district only offered half-day K. Then it became a matter of funding: who would pay for it?
We weighed the cost of all-day K versus the potential cost of remediation should a child fail to meet the third grade reading requirement. We also weighed the potential negative effects of retention, such as the increased likelihood that a student who is held back a year will drop out.
Our decision was that the district would absorb the entire cost of offering all-day K to all students. That decision was based on several key factors: 1) 40 percent of the households in our district are considered economically disadvantaged; 2) approximately 50 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced meals; and 3) a large number of our students are English language-learners.
Given these circumstances, we believed that charging tuition for all-day K would exclude too many children and, probably, those who needed it the most. It was a tough decision, especially in light of diminishing financial resources. The state had recently eliminated the tangible personal property tax and transferred substantial resources to charter schools, dramatically reducing what we have available.
No district in Ohio should have to grapple with these choices. They shouldn’t be forced to choose between: a) allocating funds toward building a sound academic foundation for every student; b) asking some parents to pay extra for all-day K, while excluding others; or c) not offering additional learning time in kindergarten at all.
In 2010, Education Week’s “Quality Counts Report” ranked Ohio as the fifth-best state in the nation for academic performance. Using the same criteria in 2015, the report ranked Ohio 23rd, citing low kindergarten enrollment as one of the reasons for the slide. Ohio was ranked 43rd on this measure alone.
Ohio lawmakers, like their counterparts in the states mentioned above, must understand the importance of a solid educational foundation. They must be willing to help students, parents and school districts meet the demands of more rigorous expectations. They must be ready to invest more in full-day per-pupil funding for kindergarten.
-- Terry Groden
Terry is vice president of the North Olmsted City Schools Board of Education.