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.