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.

This Salinas kindergarten teacher is getting creative with social media

Ben Cogswell

Remote learning and working are the new “normal.”

What does that mean for the young ones, 5 and 6 years old, who were about to start their educational journey in kindergarten? While adults may have a difficult time adapting to the remote world, children have an even greater challenge ahead.

But not all hope is lost.

Ben Cogswell, a tech-savvy Bardin Elementary School kindergarten teacher, has a plan and he’s sharing it across the web.

In his third year of teaching at Bardin Elementary, things took a rapid turn when a district-wide school shutdown was announced. However, it switched a lightbulb on in the Salinas teacher’s head — social media is the answer.

San Diego’s 4-year-olds to get transitional kindergarten ahead of state rollout

State leaders have approved a rollout of universal transitional kindergarten over the next few years, but San Diego Unified will jump ahead and offer it to all 4-year-olds this fall.

Meanwhile at least five San Diego County districts do not offer transitional kindergarten and say they don’t plan to change.

San Diego Unified officials said they will offer at least 2,800 transitional kindergarten spots to families this fall. Any child in the district who turns 4 by Sept. 1 will be eligible for the program, which is being offered in 54 schools, district officials said.

“Regardless of where you live, regardless of where you work, we want you to come to school,” said Stephanie Ceminsky, director of early learning for the district.

The state promised in July it will begin funding universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in public schools by 2025. Children will be eligible if they turn 4 by Sept. 1.

But not all 4-year-olds will be able to get access to the early childhood education program; it may depend on which school district they attend.

At least five small, elementary-only school districts in some of the wealthiest parts of San Diego County — Cardiff, Del Mar, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach — do not provide any transitional kindergarten, even though state school officials say they have to.

Leaders of those districts have said they will not offer it unless the state gives them the money to do so.

They are called “basic aid” districts, meaning they get most of their money from local property taxes rather than from the state, unlike most public school districts, which get much of their funding from state per-pupil funds.

The five basic aid districts are North County, coastal districts, ranging in size from 547 students in Rancho Santa Fe to 4,900 students in Encinitas.

Most of those districts receive thousands more dollars in general revenue per student than the average California district — which some parent advocates have argued is all the more reason they should offer transitional kindergarten, like most other school districts do.

District leaders have said they can’t afford to offer transitional kindergarten without compromising other programs they find more important, such as smaller class sizes and science, technology, engineering and math programs at Del Mar, for example.

When reached by email recently all five superintendents of the basic aid districts said they had no plans to change or update their stance on transitional kindergarten.

The California Department of Education, which helps carry out state education laws, has said that state law requires all elementary school districts and charter schools to offer transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children.

Transitional kindergarten is an extra, optional grade that precedes kindergarten.

Child advocates say such early education opportunities are crucial to child development, bringing with them such benefits as higher academic achievement and a greater likelihood of graduating high school for students — and some much-needed child care for working parents.

Not only does transitional kindergarten teach academics, it also teaches young children how to act in school, said Valencia Park Elementary Principal Lori Moore, whose school helped pilot an expanded transitional kindergarten program in the San Diego Unified district.

In transitional kindergarten, kids learn the basics of school behavior, such as how to stand in line and how to keep your hands to yourself, she said.

“If you go into a kindergarten room, you can tell who has never been in a school right away,” Moore said.

But early childhood education is expensive and inaccessible for many families.

The state offers free preschool or child care only to families who meet narrow income requirements. Families who don’t qualify have to pay for preschool, which on average costs more than $15,000 a year in San Diego County, according to the YMCA Childcare Resource Service.

Transitional kindergarten, on the other hand, has until now been available to some children depending on when they were born.

Currently, only children throughout California who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 are guaranteed transitional kindergarten at their public school, a rule that many education advocates have said is arbitrary.

A state budget trailer bill passed in July will gradually expand state-funded transitional kindergarten to all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1.

It’s unlikely the five districts that do not offer transitional kindergarten will change their minds, because the new state budget trailer bill mirrors the same state law language that the five districts have used to justify not offering transitional kindergarten.

The budget trailer bill says school districts must provide transitional kindergarten to age-eligible children as a condition of receiving state funding — a condition that the basic aid districts have claimed does not apply to them.

San Diego Unified piloted its full-day, transitional kindergarten program last school year, opening it to 4-year-olds regardless of birthdate.

The program combines a transitional kindergarten teacher and a preschool teacher in the same classroom. The idea was a preschool teacher would bring expertise specific to developing younger children, such as using play-based learning, while a transitional kindergarten teacher would bring expertise on curriculum and educational standards.

Because it was a pilot program, it had limited space — it served about 1,000 4-year-olds in classrooms only at Title I schools, which serve low-income families.

There wasn’t enough room to meet demand; about 2,500 families originally applied and 480 were placed on a wait list, Ceminsky said.

This school year, Ceminsky said, the district can serve at least 2,800 transitional kindergarteners.

San Diego Unified does not know yet how many 4-year-olds there are in the district, she said, but the plan is to serve those students at 54 elementary schools where it offered the pilot program, then expand it across the district in the 2022-2023 school year.

Families living in San Diego Unified who want to enroll in transitional kindergarten can email [email protected] or apply directly at school sites starting Aug. 16, Ceminsky said.

If there is enough interest and school sites fill up, San Diego Unified will expand to accommodate every family, Ceminsky said.