Politics

April 16, 2013

Bill aims to compel districts to offer all-day kindergarten

The measure requires school districts that offer kindergarten to have a full-day program by 2017.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Gorham school officials have put off offering all-day kindergarten for at least another year. Cape Elizabeth is considering starting it as a pilot program next fall.

click image to enlarge

(FILE) Solon Elementary School Principal Jean Butler with kindergarten students.

Staff photo by David Leaming

But regardless of what they decide to do, those and dozens of other districts in Maine that don't offer full-day kindergarten might be forced to expand their programs soon, if a bill in front of the state Legislature passes.

State Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, said L.D. 1143, An Act to Develop Young Readers, started with the idea that reading programs throughout the state should be better coordinated.

Through her research and conversations with parents, she decided she wanted to support the move toward all-day kindergarten in Maine, too.

The bill she sponsored would require all districts that offer kindergarten to have a full-day program starting in the fall of 2017.

"I think it gives all of those school districts time to put in place the funding and the programs and find the space to do it," she said last week.

A public hearing on the bill in front of the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

A list on the Department of Education's website indicates that 161 of 231 districts in the state -- or 70 percent -- offer all-day kindergarten.

Nelson said state officials have told her 88 percent of districts that offer kindergarten have a full-day program. She hopes that figure will spur the others to find the funding for it.

Supporters of all-day kindergarten say the extra instruction time will be necessary for students to meet the common core standards that districts will be mandated to adopt. Also, they say that having a less rushed day with fewer transitions is beneficial to kindergartners and makes for an easier adjustment to first grade.

Those who feel a half-day program is sufficient say a full school day is too long for kindergarten children, that supporters are just looking for free day care and that it's not worth the cost.

Eliot-based Marshwood is the only school district in York County that doesn't offer full-day kindergarten, but was one of the first to offer pre-K.

Superintendent Mary Nash said a task force studied the option of offering all-day kindergarten a few years ago, but community members were more adamant about keeping the pre-K program, the elimination of which might have been the source of funding for the expanded kindergarten program.

Nash said she would have to know what funding the state would offer to help districts expand their programs before saying whether she was in favor of the bill.

"It's very expensive. There's no question about it," she said.

Most of the districts that don't offer an all-day program are small and in the northern and eastern parts of the state. Among the larger districts that don't have all-day programs are Augusta and Gorham, where a group of parents has been pushing for it for the past year.

Though Gorham school officials wouldn't budge last year, they agreed to form a committee to study the option. That group wrapped up its work last month and made a recommendation that said the all-day program would be beneficial but wasn't worth the cost, which they estimated at more than $500,000 per year. The School Committee said last week it would make the change a priority next year.

Meanwhile, Cape Elizabeth officials have proposed to start a pilot program next year, with two of the six kindergarten classes in the district attending a full school day.

A presentation on the proposal said the district would ask parents in May whether they want to participate and then students would be chosen by a lottery system.

Nelson said all-day kindergarten is "an essential investment" for schools that all districts need to make now. She has other plans for after that.

"Eventually, I would like to extend public school to 4-year-olds," she said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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