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Mixed response to all-day kindergarten

12/30/2013

ARKANSAS CITY (AP) -- While a five-year, $80 million plan to pay for full-day kindergarten has support from the State Board of Education, leaders of the Kansas House and Senate education committees aren't backing it yet.

The Arkansas City Traveler reported House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley said she wants to know how the added spending would affect other services and the state's reserve fund.

Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal calls for spending $16 million a year for the next five years until all-day kindergarten is funded fully by the state. Brownback said he plans to offer more details next month, but ensuring all Kansas students go to kindergarten for a full day dovetails with his focus on improving reading scores.

"I don't know if I'm sold on all-day kindergarten," said Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican. "Personally, I would like to take a look at it a bit more."

Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams said he hadn't seen the bill and noted the research is mixed. Studies generally show children in all-day kindergarten programs make bigger academic gains than students in half-day programs, but research is inconclusive on how long the benefits persist.

"There is literature on both sides of it," said Abrams, also an Arkansas City Republican. "So it boils down to the bottom line -- if the parents are actively involved with the kids and taking care of their kids at home."

Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Republican, said he supports state funding of all-day kindergarten, but is skeptical of Brownback's intentions.

"If he's promising all-day kindergarten, but is not prepared to come up with some money and not prepared to work with the Legislature to figure out a way to get the funding, then it's nothing but political posturing," Trimmer said.

All but approximately 15 of the state's 286 districts provide all-day kindergarten, according to Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for fiscal and administrative services for the Kansas Department of Education. Most use money they receive from the state for at-risk students to pay the additional staffing costs, while another 20 or so districts charge parents per semester for all-day instruction, he said.

Dennis has said all-day kindergarten fees for parents range from $270 a semester to $1,350 a semester.

Districts that already provide all-day instruction potentially could use the money the state would provide for all-day kindergarten in other ways.