KUSD may get kindergarten funding boost next year

KINGMAN ­ The Kingman Unified School District is in its third year of offering all-day kindergarten classes, something Gov. Janet Napolitano is trying to get fully funded and implemented statewide.

At present, just 15 percent of state public elementary schools receive all-day funding for kindergarten. The other 85 percent are funded for a half-day.

The state began full day kindergarten funding this year to schools in which 90 percent of pupils qualify for free or reduced price lunches. The bar is expected to be lowered for 2005-2006.

"We should get all-day funding next year at Mt. Tipton (in Dolan Springs)," said Betsy Parker, assistant superintendent of the KUSD.

"I'm basing that on what newspaper stories and the state Legislature has said in which the criteria will drop to 80 percent (of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches) and that will get us in with Mt. Tipton."

The KUSD presently has 531 children enrolled in kindergarten. Mt. Tipton School has one kindergarten class with 20 children, Parker said.

While kindergarten now is conducted all day, some children attend only a half-day. They go home after lunch, a decision made by a team of educators considering what is best for the child on a case-by-case basis, Parker said.

Parker remains hopeful all elementary schools in her district will eventually receive all-day kindergarten funding. The district foots the cost for the half day not paid by the state, an amount that comes to roughly $500,000 per year, she said.

"We're using Title I and Title II grant money to pay for the half not paid by the state right now," she said.

Title I is a federal reading and math program. Title II concerns class size reduction and teacher improvement, Parker said.

Spacing has been adequately accommodated since the start of all-day kindergarten.

"Do the math and you'll realize we only need half of the kindergarten teachers we now have for staffing," Parker said.

Parker said she is glad Napolitano believes strongly in childhood education and is moving ahead to implement all-day funding for kindergarten.

All-day kindergarten has existed at the Kingman Academy of Learning since the charter district opened in 1995-96, despite receiving funding for just a half day.

"We haven't fully broken it down, but we use Title I money to offset some of the added cost and some No Child Left Behind grant money for the past three years as well," said Betty Rowe, KAOL director.

"It's always been my philosophy that students benefit more if they have extended kindergarten time. When you go just 2.5 hours per day and part of that time is used for play, art, music and physical education, students aren't exposed very much to academics."

"I believe they're ready to learn at that age and that an extended day will help them be more successful in all grades."

Rowe said the combination of grants applied to all-day kindergarten in her district comes to $119,250 per year for teacher salaries. The district presently has 91 children enrolled in kindergarten.

As the KAOL began with all-day kindergarten 10 years ago, it's classrooms for kindergarten have never been used for dual purposes as is the case with schools offering morning and afternoon kindergarten sections, Rowe said.

The KAOL has five kindergarten classes that feed into four first-grade classes.

It may appear at first that the KAOL cannot be considered for all-day funding because the district has no lunch program. Children bring their own lunches to school.

However, the district sends out surveys to parents to determine which are at or near poverty levels, a requirement for Title I funding, Rowe said.

"We will never meet the 90 percent criteria (children qualifying for free or reduced lunches) of the present," she said.

"What I thought would happen was the state would fully fund all-day kindergarten in the poorest schools and phase in another group the next year that would not be quite as poor. If they continue that way it eventually would get down to a point where we fall inside the equation."

Rowe went on to say it is wonderful that low-income districts are getting all-day kindergarten funding. She hopes it will give those children a head start and lead to greater academic success as they progress.