Clark-Shawnee Local Schools will add all-day kindergarten next school year, the last Clark County district to do so.
The expanded hours help young students meet increasingly stringent curriculum standards, educators said, but some districts want the state to pay a share of the additional costs.
The state hasn’t had money to send to schools for all-day kindergarten and isn’t requiring districts to offer it, said state Rep. Bob Hackett, R-London, who represents eastern Clark County.
Northwestern Superintendent Tony Orr said he believes in the importance of an all-day program to prepare students for more at an earlier age, but said a recent decline in fiscal support from the state has made paying for it difficult.
“How does the community afford those additional costs when we’ve seen continuous reduction in state funding?” Orr said. “You’ve got a lot of different elements involved.”
Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Gregg Morris said the district has wanted to offer an all-day program for a while because of the strong research that points out its advantages over half-day programs.
“Primarily, it’s giving our students a good start,” Morris said. “They’ll have strong literacy and math skills.”
The district will use part of the $2.3 million levy for operating expenses passed by voters on May 6 to offer the program, Morris said.
It will cost the district about $65,000 to $70,000 extra a year to pay for the expanded kindergarten program.
That cost is lower than it might be, though, Morris said. It’s offset by reduced transportation expenses by not having to run another bus route for the half-day students. Another savings will come from bringing back the 15 or so students who had been leaving the district through open enrollment to attend full-day programs at other schools.
“We were losing students each year,” Morris said.
The program will also better prepare students for a curriculum that is continuously becoming more rigorous, according to Morris.
“Students are expected to know more and more early in their career,” he said.
Clark-Shawnee parent Julie Jennings agreed.
“It’s necessary because the curriculum and the common core is so extensive,” Jennings said.
Northeastern Superintendent Lou Kramer said the all-day program was added in his district in 2010 because of a push from the state. Kramer acknowledged the advantages that an all-day program provides students, especially of a lower social-economic status.
“The program … does allow students more experiences to adapt to changing standards and state expectations,” Kramer said in an email.
Springfield City School District, the largest district in the county, has offered all-day kindergarten since the 1990s. The district’s 2012-2013 overall kindergarten enrollment was 706 students.
It spent nearly $2.7 million on kindergarten in that academic year, according to Superintendent David Estrop.
If Springfield City reduced to a half-day program, he estimated the district would have spent only $800,000 to $1 million.
“Cost is a concern,” Estrop said. “I would like to see (the state) step up and spend more for all-day K.”
Hackett said he encourages the switch to all-day programs, but that additional state funding currently isn’t possible.
About half of the Ohio general fund budget already goes toward education, Hackett said, and the state simply didn’t have room to pay for it.
“The schools are doing it on their own initiative,” he said. “It’s not the responsibility of the Legislature.”
Hackett said he would be open to discussing the matter for the next budget cycle.
“In a perfect world, they could get more funding,” he said. “Maybe it’s something that could be discussed in the future.”
Greenon Local Schools, which began offering a full-day program last year, found a different way to address the cost. The school re-distributed positions, moving a second grade teacher to kindergarten, Husted Principle Darrin Knapke said.
“We structured programs around the district,” Knapke said. “We didn’t have to go and hire additional teachers.”
The progress that he has seen in his kindergartners was worth additional costs, Knapke said.
“They’re picking up confidence,” he said. “It’s good for the school, it’s good for the district.”
The Springfield News-Sun digs into important stories about education and government spending, including on the state capital budget.