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With full-day kindergarten becoming norm, states start to
consider full funding as well

by Ilene Grossman ~ April 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Four decades ago, only about one-quarter of the U.S. students attending kindergarten went for the full day. Today, the numbers are essentially reversed — only one-quarter of kindergartners attend a half day, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center.
And another change is beginning to occur as well — how states fund kindergarten.
In the Midwest, states have traditionally paid only for a half day, but full-day funding has received more attention as part of the growing interest in expanding young people’s early-learning opportunities.
Kansas is one of the latest states where legislators have considered the idea of full-day kindergarten funding, which Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has tied to state goals such as improving college and career readiness and reducing poverty.
According to the Education Commission of the States, 11 states require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten. Though no states in the Midwest require it, some have already begun to provide a full day of funding.
In Indiana, voluntary, state-funded full-day kindergarten has been available since the 2012-13 school year.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, the benefits of a full day for kindergartners are verified by studies showing greater progress in academic and social skills.
The Indiana legislature does not allocate a specific amount or cap funding for the full-day program. Instead, dollars go to local school districts based on enrollment and a per-pupil formula. School districts may also apply for grants to support operational costs.
And full-day kindergarten in Indiana has boomed: 97 percent of the children enrolled in kindergarten are in full-day programs, while almost all (99.4 percent) of the state’s school districts offer a full-day option.
In Indiana, too, families can send their kindergarten children to schools outside the district where they live.
That, in turn, has put “demands on school districts, as they feel the need to offer full-day kindergarten if neighboring districts do,” notes Charlie Geier, director of early learning at the Indiana Department of Education.
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature approved $134 million in funding for full-day kindergarten. Starting this fall, this funding will be available to any school district in the state.
Even with more state dollars, though, local school districts can face challenges in expanding academic offerings — finding extra classroom space, for example.
In Michigan, this may be one reason some districts were only offering a half day, even though the state had been providing funding for a full day. According to the Michigan Department of Education, under the old funding formula, districts were paid for full-day kindergarten even if they were only offering a half day. But starting in 2012-13, districts had to either offer a full day or have their per-pupil funding for kindergarten cut in half.