Governor Mark Dayton has proposed to invest $40 million to expand participation in all-day kindergarten. The funding would be available to schools that offer optional all-day kindergarten free to all students in that district who want to participate.
The funding is intended to cover 70 percent of the state funding formula for a full day and the district would have to come up with the other 30 percent.
Traditionally, public school education covered a half-day kindergarten program followed by the traditional all-day programs for grades one through 12. For many decades, the value of kindergarten learning as well as pre-school learning has been recognized as critical for future school success.
While there is some challenge to the value of public paid schooling for students 5 years old or younger, we agree that the all-day kindergarten experience is of value, should be publicly funded and available to parents who choose that learning for their children. We favor state funded all-day kindergarten.
There are two key elements to all-day kindergarten in Minnesota’s public schools that need to be addressed.
First, all-day kindergarten comes in various models, different levels of finance and different degrees of accessibility. Even with the governor’s proposal, some Minnesota families will be paying for an additional half-day of kindergarten and those costs will vary by district. Some families may not be able to access either paid or unpaid simply because it isn’t available. For a Minnesota parent the question is simple: Why do I pay for my child’s full day of kindergarten when others don’t?
This is a “hit or miss” approach to access. It isn’t fair, wise and doesn’t provide a “uniform system of education” as noted in the Minnesota State Constitution.
There are bills in the Legislature that would fund all-day kindergarten for all students immediately, but the funding source for these fully funded proposals isn’t clearly identified. The cost goes beyond the provisions of the governor’s proposal by at least another $100 million.
We recommend fully funding all-day kindergarten for all parents who want their children to participate as a basic part of the Minnesota public education system. We also recommend a financial plan with a specific timeline for implementation and a clearly identified source of funding. It may take more than one school year to implement but not much more.
There is a second issue that goes to the substance of the kindergarten experience: it must be of consequence and there must be accountability to the investment. All too often, we enter into a public investment with a clear understanding of what we expect but with little or no follow-up on what we receive. The funding of all-day kindergarten should be accompanied by a set of expectations that parents can easily understand and that can be measured, documented or observed at the end of the kindergarten year by both the parents and the state.
Proposed legislation should be accompanied by a funded assessment to determine if expectations are being achieved. The assessment should include a follow-through or assessment that documents the impact of all-day kindergarten on third grade reading and math levels. Please note our perspective: parents should be able to assess and affirm the value just as the state evaluates the benefits.
We need to leverage every year of growth and learning for our Minnesota children. Just as early savings for college pay greater earnings over time, so too will early learning pay strong dividends as our children mature.
This opinion is a product of the ECM Publishers Editorial Board. This is the first in an occasional series of opinions on reforming public education in Minnesota. The Record is part of ECM Publishers Inc.