Schools move quickly, but not easily, into all-day kindergarten • Idaho Capital Sun

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on April 7, 2022

West Ada and Twin Falls school leaders didn’t waste any time.

Days after the Legislature pumped an additional $46.6 million into early literacy, the two districts announced plans to launch all-day kindergarten this fall.

And the Boise School District actually beat both districts out of the gate. Boise announced its all-day kindergarten plans in January — betting, correctly, that lawmakers would heed Gov. Brad Little’s call for more money literacy.

West Ada, Twin Falls and Boise are doing exactly what Little and his legislative allies envisioned. They are choosing to put some of their new literacy money into tuition-free all-day kindergarten, supplementing the funding they already receive for a half day of kindergarten.

Gov. Brad Little reads to students at Kuna’s Reed Elementary School Thursday, at an event celebrating the state’s $46.6 million increase in literacy spending. Little said he wasn’t surprised that the West Ada and Twin Falls school districts would use the money for all-day kindergarten. And while he says it will take time for districts to find qualified teachers, he expects other schools to eventually follow suit and offer full-day kindergarten. “I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become universal,” he said. Kevin Richert/Idaho EdNews

But moving quickly is not the same as moving easily. And there’s nothing simple about the move to all-day kindergarten.

First, the bottom line questions

Schools will certainly get more money for literacy. The funding increase moves the literacy line item from $26 million to more than $72 million.

But no one knows how much of the $72 million will go to a particular district or charter. Those payments will be based, in part, on spring Idaho Reading Indicator scores. Kindergarten through third-grade students will take the screener later this month.

And as legislators wrestled with the literacy of this session’s proposals, they fundamentally changed the way the state will divvy up the money.

For several years, the state targeted the money to at-risk readers — based on the number of students who scored below grade level on the IRI.

But starting July 1, half of the $72 million will go out based on enrollment, and the other half will go out based on students who hit grade level on the IRI or show improvement. (There is some weighting in the formula to account for economically disadvantaged students.)

Some lawmakers argued that they no longer wanted to reward schools for failure, preferring to instead incentivize success. But the new formula has some education leaders nervous.

In an Idaho Education News podcast airing Friday, Idaho Association of School Administrators executive director Andy Grover said he wants to see how the math shakes out in the next year, to make sure the state isn’t penalizing districts and students “who needs the most help.”

Striking a spending balance

Idaho School Boards Association deputy director Quinn Perry said she is excited to see schools step up to offer all-day kindergarten. But she doesn’t expect every district to follow suit, and she said schools need to be cautious.

“You would be a fool if you dumped all that (new) money into kindergarten, because 50% of the funding is now dependent on your K-3 readers,” Perry said in this week’s podcast.

Indeed, the literacy money has gone out to schools with few restrictions. Some schools have already used the money for all-day kindergarten; Boise has put about a tenth of its $1.6 million in literacy funding for all-day kindergarten tuition waivers at Jefferson and Taft elementary schools.

But schools have the green light to spend literacy dollars on anything they believe will help K-3 readers — and that mixed approach is unlikely to change.

Boise has put most of its $1.6 million into hiring reading specialists and reading tutors, although the district plans to shift its approach to a “learning coach” model, designed to help K-3 teachers work more effectively with at-risk readers, within the traditional classroom.

Similarly, Twin Falls has already put some of its money into free full-day kindergarten in five of its nine elementary schools, focusing on students who show up behind in their early reading skills. The district has also put literacy money into a host of other programs, such as hiring paraprofessionals that allow the schools to work with at-risk readers in small groups. “That work will all continue,” elementary programs director Jennie Peterson said.

Logistical challenges

None of the three large districts are launching their all-day kindergarten programs from scratch. About 40% of Boise’s 1,405 kindergartners are already in full-time classes, as are close to a third of West Ada’s 2,467 kindergartners.

But the two largest districts will face some logistical hurdles as they launch into all-day kindergarten.

The chronically crowded West Ada district should have adequate space in their grade schools for the expanded kinder classes, but the Galileo STEM Academy will need to use a portable classroom, district spokesperson Niki Scheppers said.

Then there’s the matter of hiring. West Ada will need an additional 33 teachers for all-day kindergarten. Twin Falls will need nine to 11 new teachers. Boise is looking to add 37 full-time jobs — and possibly more support positions, in special education, physical education and music, spokesman Dan Hollar said.

Then there’s transportation. West Ada won’t know how all-day kindergarten will affect their transportation programs until student enrollment wraps up this month, Scheppers said. Boise is banking on a savings of $175,000 as it eliminates some midday bus routes, Hollar said.

But that dovetails into another logistical issue: Boise isn’t yet sure if it will eliminate half-day kindergarten, or continue to offer it as an option for parents who prefer it. “We will be gauging the interest level, if there is any,” Hollar said Wednesday.

‘We are not going to flashcard our way out of this’

Beth Oppenheimer — executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and a Boise school trustee — is well aware of the unanswered questions about all-day kindergarten.

But she is excited to see Boise and other districts jumping on board, because she is excited about the potential. Teachers will have the luxury of time, to work both with their at-risk students and children who are at grade level. As parents start their young children off with a full day in school, she expects parents to become more engaged in the education process — not less. And young kids will have more time in a safe, structured setting, picking up the social skills that might ultimately be more important than their ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.

Oppenheimer doesn’t really begrudge the fact that Idaho public policy has basically intertwined all-day kindergarten with early literacy. People want something measurable — and reading scores are more tangible than social skills.

But even after school work through the logistics and launching an all-day kindergarten, she said, it won’t solve everything. Less than 41% of kindergartners showed up last fall ready to learn to read, according to the IRI scores — and until Idaho changes the way it approaches early childhood development, those grim numbers aren’t likely to change.

“We are not going to flashcard our way out of this,” she said.

Kevin Richert writes a weekly analysis on education policy and education politics. Look for his stories each Thursday.

Listen Friday: Now that the 2022 legislative session is history, how will schools spend their literacy money — and roll out all the other new laws passed this winter? Kevin Richert will explore these issues in his next weekly podcast.

Transitional kindergarten in California — without state help

In summary

The state mandates transitional kindergarten, but isn’t paying the tab for a small portion of wealthy school districts. Some are balking.

Lea este artículo en español.

In a major shift for early education, California is expanding its transitional kindergarten program to eventually include all 4-year-olds. While most districts will receive additional dollars for the expansion, 15% will not — and are facing tough budget choices as they comply with the new fall mandate.

Some of those districts — among the most affluent in California — say they are stretching existing budgets to create classrooms, moving money around to hire new teachers and trying to figure out how to fund renovations that include tiny toilets and preschool playground equipment.

Others say they have no plans to add transitional kindergarten, despite parent pleas, unless they get state funding.

Reed Union School District in the Bay Area town of Tiburon is one of the districts that won’t be getting state money for transitional kindergarten. Reed Union hasn’t offered the program in years but is planning to add it in the fall.

“For districts without any additional funding coming in it is a big financial commitment,” said Superintendent Kimberly McGrath. “It is fantastic for kids in our community to have an additional year of exceptional learning. We are going to embrace it and see it as working toward universal preschool.”

Reed Union is one of the 15% of districts statewide   known as basic aid districts.

Most California districts are funded through a state funding formula allocated on a per-student basis. But basic aid districts serve areas where local property taxes generate more money than the districts would receive if they took state funding.

Last year, the state committed more than $1 billion in the current budget to begin phasing in the expansion of transitional kindergarten, eventually including all 4-year-olds by 2025-26. None of that money will go to basic aid districts.

“I can see why basic aid districts might make an argument that the state has changed the rules substantially,” said Deborah Stipek, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “But I don’t know how you’d address it. They can’t have it both ways.” 

Transitional kindergarten has been available to 4-year-olds with birthdays between September and December since 2012. It was created when kindergarten was limited to those who turned 5 by September. Previously, 4-year-olds could enroll in kindergarten in the fall if they turned 5 by December.

Last year’s decision to expand the program to all 4-year-olds means 500,000 children will be eligible by the end of the rollout. Starting this August, children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 will be able to enroll. Each school year the enrollment window will widen to include more students until 2025-26, when all 4-year-olds will be eligible.

Some districts don’t offer programs

Basic aid districts tend to be smaller districts, mostly coastal or rural with clusters in coastal San Diego County and the Bay Area. In all, there are about 150 basic aid districts among California’s approximately 1,000 districts, according to data from the California Department of Education. 

At least a dozen basic aid districts have not offered transitional kindergarten in recent years and some of them say they still won’t add the new grade despite the mandate.

“We do not plan to offer it because we are not receiving any funding from the state,” said Chris Delehanty, assistant superintendent of business services for Del Mar Elementary School District. “To add it would mean reducing or eliminating something we are already offering, increasing class size or reducing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) offerings for our students or professional learning for our teachers.”

The district has eight elementary schools and serves nearly 4,000 students. Delehanty said if the district enrolled as many 4-year-olds as it does kindergartners each year, about 500, the district would have to add around 25 classrooms and hire twice that number of teachers and aides to meet state-required teacher-student ratios, which are generally smaller than those for older students. The estimated price: $4 million to roll out the program to all 4-year-olds. 

“We do not plan to offer it because we are not receiving any funding from the state.”

Chris Delehanty, assistant superintendent of business services for Del Mar Elementary School District

Transitional kindergarten, like kindergarten, is optional and experts say not all children who are eligible will enroll. Families may choose to stay in their subsidized or private preschool or child care or keep their kids at home. 

There are four other small coastal districts in San Diego County that are basic aid districts and also do not offer the program, including Solana Beach, Encinitas Union, Rancho Santa Fe and Cardiff school districts.

“We have all been advocating and lobbying for this mandate to be funded for all children,” said Andrée Grey, superintendent of Encinitas Union School District. “We recognize the value and appreciate the intent behind universal transitional kindergarten. However, it is critical that community-funded districts be able to access the funding that has been set aside, and there is not currently a mechanism for us to do that.”

But Stipek, the Stanford professor, said schools often have to reassess spending based on enrollment, policies, shifting focus and existing and new programs.

“Anytime you have to do something new, you have to do a redistribution of resources,” Stipek said. With transitional kindergarten, known as TK, she said, “your kids are going to learn more, do better, develop the kind of social skills that they need. So the benefits of having kids in TK will compensate for any reductions you have to make in other kinds of services.”

It’s unclear what happens if districts ignore the mandate. The California Department of Education refused to say whether it can enforce the mandate or how many schools are not providing transitional kindergarten.

Instead, it issued the following statement: “Basic aid districts should be offering TK if they offer kindergarten. In terms of enforcement, the CDE is continuing to work with basic aid districts that are not offering TK on issues” including what districts have to do to receive or keep their funding. 

Several basic aid districts in San Mateo and Marin counties said the mandate was the driving force behind their decision to create new transitional kindergarten. Those districts include Mill Valley, Reed Union, Hillsborough City Elementary, Menlo Park City Elementary and Miller Creek school districts. They all plan to offer transitional kindergarten programs in the fall. 

Even so, the financing is challenging. They need the state to provide money for the rollout in the coming years, several superintendents said.

Becky Rosales, superintendent of Miller Creek School District, noted in an email  that her district, in San Rafael, receives just enough in property taxes to be classified as basic aid. “I am hopeful that there will be some consideration at the state level of a remedy to support districts like ours.” 

“If funds were provided it would have an enormous impact.”

Kimberly McGrath, superintendent of Reed Union School District in tiburon

At Reed Union in Tiburon, the district, which has just three schools, will add two transitional kindergarten classrooms to serve up to 40 children, McGrath said.

The price tag: around $300,000 for the first year. 

“If funds were provided it would have an enormous impact,” McGrath said. “Even if just some up-front grant funds because while there are some ongoing costs there are a lot of one-time costs – equipment material purchases, planning time, playground equipment, facilities.”

In the midst of Kern County’s oil fields, where McKittrick Elementary School District offers transitional kindergarten when it is needed, said Barry Koerner, who is both superintendent and principal. The district has only one school and 86 students.

This year the school had its first 4-year-old in transitional kindergarten. Koerner hired an aide for the nine-student combo transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classroom to accommodate the one child.

“If I didn’t have resources built up we would have to cut,” he said. “We are rarely the ones they consider when making these big changes. We are doing everything we can to fight to keep our heads above water.”

Transitional kindergarten has been a pillar of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s agenda to eventually offer universal preschool to all children in California. The move is intended to benefit children eligible for subsidies who are waitlisted by fully enrolled-preschools or child care programs and those whose families can’t afford hefty tuition for private early childhood programs.

Legislators supported the plan, citing studies that say children do better in school if they attend preschool, and that preparation can help close the achievement gap.

“The evidence for the benefits of preschool, transitional kindergarten is strong enough now that we want all kids to have access to it — and that’s not the case right now,” said Stipek, who is part of a state task force to help the Commision on Teacher Credentialing create guidelines for teachers in early childhood. 

There are other reasons supporters push for transitional kindergarten.

Moving 4-year-olds into public schools sooner opens up seats in private and state subsidized preschool programs, child care centers and family-based child care homes for younger children. It also helps increase the overall number of students  in public schools as many California districts continue to see a drastic drop in enrollment. 

“The evidence for the benefits of preschool, transitional kindergarten is strong enough now that we want all kids to have access to it — and that’s not the case right now.”

Deborah Stipek, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education

In San Diego County, parent Lynette Jaiswal has been carefully tracking the discussion in both Del Mar and Solana Beach, as she owns homes in both places. She lives in Solana Beach but would have moved to her home in Del Mar if the district offered the program.

Last year, when it was time to find a transitional kindergarten program for her son, she said she was told to apply to an outside district. But that didn’t work out for her family because it was too far away. 

“I’m not the only parent struggling to find a place for my transitional kindergarten child,” she said. “I did find placement for my child but it’s very frustrating when you have a school district that can do something but they refuse to.”

Solana Beach School District officials did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

While many basic aid communities are considered affluent, there are also families in need of low-cost child care and preschool, said Jaiswal, who is a real estate agent. She said within the district there are hundreds of low-income housing units for families that typically rely on public schools. Also, many middle-class families have experienced COVID hardships and could benefit from a free public option for 4-year-olds.

Basic aid school districts, education organizations and some state legislators are advocating for the state to provide dedicated funding for basic aid districts.

Santa Barbara Democratic Sen. Monique Limón, who served on a school board when transitional kindergarten was first created, wrote a letter signed by 22 other legislators asking the Newsom administration to help the districts.

“We want TK to be successful,” she said. “To be successful you have to have the staff, you have to have the classroom and I’m not sure it should come at the expense of increasing class sizes for everyone else or cutting co-curricular programs and cutting curricular programs.”

If the state can’t offer funding, then districts may need more time to implement the expansion, she said.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Monique Limón

State Senate, District 19 (Santa Barbara)

Monique Limón

State Senate, District 19 (Santa Barbara)

How she voted 2021-2022

Liberal Conservative

District 19 Demographics

Race/Ethnicity

Latino 38%

White 47%

Asian 5%

Black 5%

Multi-race 4%

Voter Registration

Dem 37%

GOP 35%

No party 19%

Campaign Contributions

Sen. Monique Limón has taken at least $832,000 from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 25% of her total campaign contributions.