Friday, February 21, 2014

Committee debates pros and cons of full-day kindergarten

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — The head of the Kansas Children's Cabinet on Thursday declined to endorse Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to have the state fund full-day kindergarten.

Amanda Adkins instead suggested that the state may want to target funds to pay for full-day kindergarten in specific areas that show a need. She said any increase in funding should be accompanied by monitoring to determine the effectiveness of the expenditure.

Adkins is chairwoman of the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund, which oversees expenditures on children's programs of funds from a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

She and Janice Smith, executive director of the Children's Cabinet, appeared before a special House committee that is analyzing a proposal by Brownback to phase-in over five years state funding of all-day kindergarten.

Smith also suggested the idea of targeting certain areas in the state.

Committee Chairman Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, expressed concerns about the $80 million cost of Brownback's plan.

"We don't have a bottomless pit" of state revenue, Lunn said.

But Gayle Stuber, early childhood coordinator for the Kansas Department of Education, said full-day kindergarten allows teachers to spend more time with children at a critical point in their development.

"Kindergarten is a unique year. It's the transition year," Stuber said.

Currently, the state provides funding for half-day kindergarten. Most school districts provide full-day kindergarten by using other state funds, local funds, or by charging fees to parents.

Fifteen school districts in the state offer only half-day kindergarten.

Lunn directed the Education Department to try to provide information on how children in those districts perform on statewide tests to determine if there is any difference between children who attend half-day or full-day kindergarten.

In Lawrence, full-day kindergarten is the default option at every elementary school. If parents want their child to go for only half a day, they work that out individually with the principal.