Full Day Kindergarden – Advocacy and Cost

I have been quite open to full day kindergarten (FDK) as research indicates it supports children academically, socially, and emotionally. My approach to an issue like this is to confirm the objective, and then work to figure out how to fund it.

Newton’s FDK task force, working under past superintendent Jim Marini, suggested steps to advance this discussion a couple years ago but no further action has been taken. So step one is to do followup.

If I recall correctly, a determination of effective class size in FDK is one of the task force’s followup recommendations. But in advance of this, I believe that the current model, which keeps class size low in the afternoons (presently by releasing half the class) should be one of the objectives.

Low class size will come from more teachers and well-qualified aides in the classroom. How do we pay for this? There are many ideas out there. Here is a scattering of what Newton folks have been suggesting:

• Pass an override. A hard sell right now but this would certainly work.

• Seek funding from Title I, Race to the Top, and Kindergarten Grant programs. The work is to identify the sources and to figure out how to get money into our program.

• SILOTS. SILOTS (Service in Lieu of Taxes, with education majors coming from area universities) have been spoken of as a means of providing desirable staffing levels. I’d like to see if any college/school district pairing has been able to run an effective program with this funding/staffing approach. I would not have confidence in this without excellent aides, receiving excellent supervision by college faculty — otherwise the aides become a hindrance and not a help to the kindergarten teacher.

• Fees paid by parents for the last few hours of FDK. This could cover the cost, although this will not help parents who even now cannot afford quality, educationally-focused afternoon programs.

• Cost shifting. Findings indicate that early student support (via FDK) can reduce needs and required services of students in later grades, so FDK payment might come from cost-shifting. The numbers on cost-shifting will likely take some years to develop by monitoring students along their academic journeys. We may do better by finding other districts that have shifted to FDK and have monitored its cost along with the cost changes of later interventions.

I am not the education expert and will not presume to know more about FDK than those who have begun to study it at length, including David Fleishman, his staff, the task force, and others. But I and the School Committee can advocate for really good process. Good process means the investigation of a promising program does not stop simply because of uncertainty around how it might be funded. Funding is a critical detail but let’s agree upon shared values and program objectives first.