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Kirkwood School Board to Discuss Free Full-Day Kindergarten

Preschool parents will be watching to see how and when the district will implement tuition-free full-day kindergarten.

Annelise Knuckles will be ready for kindergarten next year; the only question is what it will cost her parents.

Her parents feel strongly that Annelise would benefit from full-day kindergarten, but as it stands now in Kirkwood, that would cost them $3,600.

“I feel that full-day kindergarten is important for children to set the groundwork for school,” said her mom, Jennifer Knuckles of Glendale. “I just want it to be available for everyone. People shouldn’t have to choose based on price.”

While all but a handful of districts in the state have moved to free full-day kindergarten, the still charges tuition for full-day kindergarten while offering half-day kindergarten for free.

The issue is on the agenda tonight at a school board work session. Parents of preschoolers will be watching closely, including members of a Facebook group called Kirkwood Kindergarten 2012. Some are planning to attend tonight’s meeting as well as the next regular school board meeting on Oct. 17 to show their support for free full-day kindergarten.

The school district’s goal is to offer full day for free, according to spokeswoman Ginger Fletcher. But until now, there just wasn’t the space, she said.

With the passage of Prop 1 last spring and the construction of new kindergarten classrooms under way, administrators are now turning their attention toward how and when to make it happen.

School board member Heidi Meckes said offering full-day kindergarten to only those families that can afford it creates an educational inequity. “The reality is, kids who probably really need it don’t have access to it,” she said.

The state, which does not require students to attend school until age 7, recommends full-day kindergarten, and Meckes said studies have shown that it helps kids start first grade on equal footing.

Currently, the district receives about $400,000 a year from tuition. Offering full-day kindergarten to all district children – while losing that tuition – would result in a cost to the district of about $825,000, Meckes said.

“Even though the administration and the board understand why it’s a good idea, the economic realities right now are very tough,” Meckes said.

Knuckles, a stay-at-home mother of two, including a son who went to full-day kindergarten last year, said the issue wasn’t about working parents vs. stay-at-home parents but about school-readiness.

“If my son had had to condense (all of kindergarten) into half a day, it would have been overwhelming for him,” she said.

She said she knows another first grader who skipped kindergarten altogether because his parents could neither afford full-day kindergarten nor the childcare needed to supplement half-day kindergarten. A grandmother watched him instead.

“So everything he was supposed to learn in kindergarten he didn’t learn,” she said. “He is just lost.”

Knuckles, who is co-president of the PTO at the, is hoping free full-day kindergarten will be available by next fall, when Annelise starts school at .

“We have the buildings now – let’s use them,” she said.

Wendy Drochelman of Des Peres supports free full-day kindergarten but hopes there will still be a half-day option for her daughter, Anna, when she starts at next year.

“I would like for that choice to be based on the child and not on a monetary decision,” she said. “Every family situation is different.”

Molly Dubberke of Kirkwood said her daughter, Janie, now in first grade, went to morning kindergarten at Westchester.

“The reason was because we didn’t have to pay for it, number one, and I guess I just felt like I wanted her to stay at home a little longer before she was school for a full-day,” she said.

“I don’t think she missed out,” she said, adding that Janie went to an afternoon enrichment program at a preschool three afternoons a week, which gave her a taste of what full-day school would be like.

Dubberke’s son Andy, who is 2, will be one of the youngest in his class, which makes her worry whether he will be ready to handle full days once he gets to big-kid school.

“I would prefer to have him in half day but I do really understand the benefit, especially for people who work,” she said.

stlgretchen October 04, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Yes, Ed, I am.
heidi October 04, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Having experienced full day kindergarten w/three of mine - I would lean toward the positive. It worked beautifully for both of my daughters. My son, however, was not ready. I figured this out quickly and withdrew him second semester - placing him in half day. So as long as there is still the option for half day if the child requires it, I love the idea of full day kindergarten. Heidi
Jill October 06, 2011 at 04:15 PM
I would bet dollars to donuts that the KSD half-day kdg outstrips many full-day kdg programs in other districts. The length of the day isn't beneficial by itself; it's what you do with those hours. Has anyone analyzed KSD student records to see if the KSD full-day program is significantly better than the KSD half-day program? Certainly KSD can check if the full-day students over the past two decades have had significantly higher GPAs, MAP/SAT/ACT scores, class ranks, college acceptances, and lower behavioral issues. Also, KSD charges $3600 for full-day kdg; that represents what it costs KSD for full-day rather than half-day kdg. If we have 400 kindergarteners, that means free full-day will cost KSD $1.44million/year (gross). KSD had to reduce the budget by $2.2 million for the current year. Over 20 positions have been eliminated. Some of the schools no longer have a full-time art or music teacher or media specialist. Studies show the benefit of full-day kdg is most for underpriviledged students. Just like school lunches/breakfasts, KSD could provide free or reduced full-day kdg for those students that need it. The average family income in Kirkwood is over $69,000. I chose to send one of my kids to full-day kdg; the others have done half-day. There is no reason the taxpayer needs to pay for my personal indulgence. The taxpayer doesn't pay for my kids' private music lessons, yet studies show individual music instruction is beneficial.
Jill October 06, 2011 at 04:18 PM
It's not a question of full-day kindergarten being offered; it already is. It's a question of whether it should be free or tuition-based. While we like to think there is nothing too good for the students, the reality is we have to stay in a budget. There are ways to make full-day kindgergarten available to those students whose families cannot afford it without subsidizing full-day kindergarten for families with six figure incomes.
Jill October 07, 2011 at 02:50 AM
I have some questions about the 1st grader who skipped kindergarten altogether mentioned in the article. Did the parents attempt to homeschool him that year? What did he do all day with grandmother? Did the parents ask the district about financial assistance for full-day kindergarten? Did the parents ask for guidance about homeschooling their child? Did anyone try to teach the kid his ABCs and numbers and read to him? Is the school giving him assistance to catch up? His story may be great for promoting financial assistance for families who can't afford full-day kindergarten, but he's hardly a poster child for making full-day kindergarten free for everyone. Could someone let us know where he stands at the end of first grade - still woefully behind, caught up, ahead - so we can judge if missing kindergarten is a lifelong albatross for the student?

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