Next week, kindergarten classes in Gorham and Cape Elizabeth are beginning all-day programs on a permanent basis after years of discussion. Cape piloted all-day K with 36 students last school year and is instituting the program for all students this fall.

Besides the studies that point to the educational and social benefits of having kids in school for a longer portion of the day, all-day kindergarten offers practical benefits for today’s working families. Since it’s hard to find a job where one of the parents can be home at mid-day to care for a young child, all-day K provides a way for parents to work more regular hours. It also helps some parents avoid the exorbitant costs of professional child-care services. The stories of a working parent spending half of his or her paycheck on child care points to the need for a solution such as all-day K.

Beyond the practical benefits for parents, all-day K has several tangible benefits for kids, too.

• According to the National Education Association, all-day programs increase reading and math achievement compared with half-day programs.

• Teachers in an all-day program get to know the students better and can identify and address any learning difficulties early, the NEA says. This early intervention saves money over the long term and increases the odds that children will be successful later in school.

• For low-income and minority students, a full-day program produces long-term educational gains.

Local experience is backing up these national findings. Earlier this year, when Cape decided to institute a permanent all-day program, Superintendent Meredith Nadeau told the school board, “A long history of research supports the (positive) impact of early learning on student performance in later years. Providing more time for (young) learners to explore and learn new concepts, particularly the foundational skills for literacy and (numbers) can help them be ready to meet the expectations they will face in subsequent years.”

Teachers have also been questioned about their feelings on all-day K, and national studies show they are resoundingly supportive, since they have more time to work with the children, meaning they can act more like instructors rather than babysitters who are trying to keep their charges entertained for a few hours.

All-day kindergarten doesn’t come cheap, however. More teachers need to be hired. The added costs in Cape, for example, are projected at $142,000 a year. In Gorham, which has more kids, the institution of an all-day program will cost an additional $536,000 this budget year. Those are significant cost increases, which apparently voters in both towns supported since the town and school budgets easily passed in June.

Critics of the all-day program say parents are merely wanting free child care. While the educational benefits of an all-day program have been shown to be extensive, it is true that parents are getting a good deal. But what’s wrong with that? Parents are rightly in need of anything that will help with the costs of child care. According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, full-day child-care programs in Cumberland County average $187 a week for preschool-aged children. Compare that with $46 for the average quarter-time child-care program in Cumberland County. (Presumably, if parents have to work until 5 p.m., they’ll likely need the quarter-time care.) Still, the resulting savings represent a sizeable chunk of a working parent’s paycheck.

The only question we have is what took Gorham and Cape Elizabeth so long to institute this common-sense approach. It’s a win for students, parents and teachers.

–John Balentine, managing editor


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