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Funding For Full-Day Kindergarten Still Uncertain

The data is in: Kids benefit academically when they attend kindergarten all day instead of half the day. An Oregon bill mandating that the state must pay for full-day kindergarten goes into effect in the 2015-2016 school year, and while the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) says it will fund the transition, some worry the funds won’t cover the full cost of implementation when districts switch from half-day to full-day. 

According to Karen Twain, ODE’s director of literacy development, schools are not mandated to switch to full-day kindergarten next year, but if they do, they must offer it for free, with each kindergartner receiving added funding from the state. 

The Eugene, Bethel and Springfield districts currently offer half-day kindergarten, and the latter two districts plan to switch to full-day next school year. Although 4J communications coordinator Kerry Delf says that while it is the district’s desire to offer full-day kindergarten, it is highly dependent on funding from the state and available classroom space. 

Similarly, Springfield School District communications specialist Devon Ashbridge says via email that “it is too costly to offer full-day kindergarten without state reimbursement, and many of our families would be unable to shoulder the cost themselves.”

Bethel Community Relations Director Pat McGillivray says Bethel has some funds set aside for the switch, but the district is “working with legislators to see if the state can fund this mandate.”

“I think everybody on the board is tremendously supportive of having full-day kindergarten,” 4J board member Jim Torrey says. The problem is in funding: School districts receive a certain amount of funds per student, and currently, each kindergartener is only getting funding for half a day. 

Next year, ODE will fund kindergarteners for a full day of school, but according to Torrey, “We’re hearing that the state may not have funds to provide enough dollars to the statewide pool, and as a result, the pool will have a reduced amount of funds for not only our students but all the students in the state.” 

He says members of the 4J school board are reaching out to members of the Oregon Legislature and Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden to make sure the overall dollar amount per student does not decrease.

Last school year, about 38 percent of Oregon public school kindergartners attended full-day kindergarten, and Twain says that schools funded those programs in a variety of ways, from charging parents to cover the additional cost to using district general funds. 

Torrey says full-day kindergarten is key in helping kids read by third grade, which he notes as the “single highest predictor of success in students.”