On the heels of a new national report on the value of full-day kindergarten and the states that offer and fund it, Arizona leaders have renewed calls for increased focus and funding on what some have called “the new first grade” for its increased rigor, especially in reading.
Arizona political, business and education leaders say early literacy is key to increasing high school graduation rates, postsecondary attainment and developing a skilled workforce, and providing full-day kindergarten is the way to do that.
Many, including Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona State University President Michael Crow and superintendents from both large and small Arizona school districts, expressed their views at the “Power of K: Full-day Kindergarten’s Impact on Literacy Breakfast” in Phoenix on Sept. 20.
Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest school district with 64,000 students, offers all-day kindergarten in all its schools at no charge to families, despite receiving state funding for only a half-day program.
This year, 99.6 percent of Mesa’s students met or exceeded the third-grade Move on When Reading literacy requirement, said superintendent Dr. Michael Cowan, who was a panelist at the event, which was sponsored by Greater Phoenix Leadership, Arizona Community Foundation and Arizona PBS.
“We attribute that to two things. More time for students to have a solid academic foundation to be more successful in a more rigorous first grade and allowing kids to successfully transfer from learning to read to reading to learn,” Cowan said.
Research shows high-quality, full-day kindergarten is crucial to students’ academic success, according to “Full-Day Kindergarten: A look across the states” by the Education Commission of the States released in September 2016.
Only 13 states require full-day kindergarten, and funding for it varies from state to state, the report states.
Arizona PBS Video: Power of K: Full-day Kindergarten’s Impact on Literacy Breakfast
The Arizona Legislature phased in partial funding for full-day kindergarten in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, fully funded it in FY 2008, 2009 and 2010, then cut back to partial funding in FY 2011.
Business and education leaders have sought restored funding since then, and hope the governor and Arizona Legislature will do that.
“In Arizona today, the majority of our schools offer all-day kindergarten,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the “Power of K” breakfast. “As we look at further targeting our investment in K-12 education, my hope is that more schools will offer these programs to students. There’s no issue more unifying or more pressing than early literacy.”
Seventy-three percent of Arizona school districts – 163 out of 223 – offered full-day kindergarten to all students during the 2015-16 school year, according to Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
Click here for a larger JPEG
Districts who choose to offer full-day kindergarten must find the financial capacity to fund half of it on their own or charge families for the portion the state no longer funds.
The additional funding may come from a district’s successful budget override election or by pulling resources from other areas of district spending, said Anabel Aportela, director of research and student achievement analysis for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
Mesa Public Schools governing board redirected district funds to provide full-day kindergarten. Cowan acknowledged that the district’s large size provides more economies of scale, flexibility and creativity than many other districts have to redirect funds.
“As such, we’ve been able to sustain and support full-day kindergarten even during some difficult years of the Great Recession,” Cowan said.
When an M&O override that had funded full-day K failed in 2011, 75 percent of families in Tolleson Elementary School District could not afford to pay for full-day kindergarten, said Dr. Lupita Hightower, superintendent of the district that serves 2,900 students.
That impacted student learning, Hightower said.
“As we reviewed our data, we have learned that our students who did not receive full-day kindergarten are still lagging behind their peers even years later,” Hightower said.
In Phoenix’s 5,900-student Madison Elementary School District, parents pay $215 a month per child for full-day kindergarten at four district schools. Two of the district’s schools provide a full-day kindergarten program tuition-free thanks to federal Title I funding, which aids schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.
Educators say every minute counts
“Full-day kindergarten is a critical foundational step to really develop, teach and learn those communication skills, that collaboration, and those many ways to solve problems,” Hightower said.
Arizona students are expected to master state standards in nine subjects starting in kindergarten, and full-day kindergarten provides more time to learn, Cowan said.
In half-day kindergarten, there are “only 150 minutes of instruction a day to launch students into a much more rigorous environment than you and I experienced in kindergarten a long time ago,” Cowan said.
Hightower described how much kindergarten students learn during one week in reading, math, science and social studies, and questioned the feasibility of teaching that in just 150 minutes a day.
Research and educators’ experience has shown full-day kindergarteners make faster gains in literacy than half-day students, Cowan said. They also have lower remediation and retention rates.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
Click here for a larger JPEG
Because kindergarten standards now are more rigorous, it’s time to make kindergarten a full day of school just like first-grade, Hightower said.
“This will help us close the opportunity gap so our students in Arizona can have the foundation that they need and so that they can fulfill their dreams for the future,” Hightower said.
ASU President Michael Crow said education is key to the state’s success, and “you cannot make an investment more important than investing in a child.”
“Things like this don’t just happen on their own,” Crow said about all-day kindergarten. “These things take leadership. They take decisions. They take investments. They take the struggle of trying to decide what’s most important.”