Despite the ongoing fight over how much Kansas should spend on schools, the Legislature did at least one thing this year that almost all educators were pleased with: For the first time, it included all-day kindergarten in the school funding formula.
That means districts no longer have to use money from other parts of their budgets or charge parents for all-day K.
That’s important because research shows that all-day K helps lay a good academic foundation for children starting school.
A 2014 study done at the University of Virginia found that it had a “substantial positive effect” on performance, particularly among students who otherwise might struggle academically.
The provision of universal full-day kindergarten “could do much to alleviate early schooling achievement gaps,” the study said.
In Kansas, most public school students already attend all-day K. Statewide last year, only about 6 percent of kindergartners — about 2,200 children — attended half-day programs.
But that figure can be deceiving. In some districts, particularly in those that charged tuition, the percentage of students in half-day kindergarten was much higher.
In the De Soto district, where families faced a $270 monthly charge, 34 percent of kindergartners attended half-day programs. In Olathe, where tuition for all-day K was $275 a month, 23 percent of students were in half-day classrooms.
Brent Yeager, the Olathe district’s director of elementary education, said those children got plenty of reading and math but missed out on some of the social aspects of school.
“Little people do a great job of working hard for academic things, but play, appropriate play, is also something that is equally important to them. So it certainly gives teachers more time to utilize some of those things,” he said.
The $100 monthly tuition charged in Lindsborg’s Smoky Hills district was “a burden” for some families, said superintendent Glen Suppes.
“We had some who would pay smaller increments, maybe $20 a week,” Suppes said.
In Liberal, lack of classroom space was a barrier to all-day K. That problem has now been solved thanks to the additional state funding, district officials said.
Prior to the change in the funding formula, many districts that didn’t charge tuition used some of the money they received for programs aimed at helping at-risk students to fund all-day K. Others diverted money from their general operating funds. A few used private donations.
With funding for all-day K now built into the base formula, districts will no longer have to divert money from programs specifically designed to help struggling students. That could be important to the Kansas Supreme Court as it considers whether the new funding formula fixes the problems that caused it to declare the old formula unconstitutional. In its order, the high court pointed to the fact that about 25 percent of Kansas public school students were not performing at grade level.
Frank Harwood, superintendent of USD 232 in De Soto, said ensuring that all districts have dedicated funding for all-day K is another way to help students who might otherwise struggle.
“At-risk students benefit from full-day kindergarten much more so than anyone else,” Harwood said. “So it is a great investment not only in all students but especially those that are coming from a situation where they may be starting behind.”
Kansas still doesn’t require that students attend all-day kindergarten, and educators believe some parents will still want to keep their children home for half a day. But the new formula removes any financial barriers for parents who want their children to attend full-day programs.