All-Day Kindergarten Gets Fast-Track Push
Officials Stress Benefits; Cost Is Hurdle

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Fairfax County school officials want to speed up the addition of full-day kindergarten programs, making them available at all elementary schools by 2010.

The county began a transition to all-day kindergarten classes in the late 1990s, targeting schools with the greatest number of poor families and children who don't speak English as their first language. When classes begin next month, students who attend kindergarten at 73 of the county's 136 elementary schools will attend for a full day.

But Ann Monday, assistant superintendent for instructional services, said that if the program's expansion continues at its current rate -- with a handful of schools added each year -- it might be another decade before every child in Fairfax can attend full-day kindergarten. She said research has shown that the extra hours deliver gains in literacy for all children.

"We don't think our community will want to wait this long for this program, especially given what we know about early childhood education," Monday told county supervisors and School Board members at a recent meeting.

The Fairfax proposal comes amid a nationwide movement by educators and officials to increase public education for the youngest children. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has proposed making state-funded preschool available to every 4-year-old in the state.

Most local jurisdictions, including Alexandria, Arlington, Fauquier and the District, already offer kindergarten as a full-day program for all students. The Prince William school system has been expanding its full-day kindergarten program. And the Maryland General Assembly mandated that all public schools provide full-day kindergarten by the 2007-08 school year.

Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said he liked the idea of all kindergartners spending more time in the classroom, but questioned whether the county would be able to foot the bill.

"All of us with children in the system know the value of full-day kindergarten as opposed to half-day," Connolly said. "We're going to have to look at the cost factor here. The next budget cycle is simply not the one for any new initiatives."

Under the change proposed by school system planners, all-day classes would be added at 21 schools for a three-year period beginning in September 2008. If that plan is approved, all 136 schools would have full-day kindergarten by 2010. Monday said the staff plan was the "most aggressive rollout we can responsibly propose."

School officials estimate that the district would face an additional cost of $13.4 million in teacher salaries and benefits each year to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools. Implementing the plan also would require $9.1 million in one-time costs to add classroom space and pay for equipment.

School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At Large) said he thinks that, as a matter of fairness, full-day kindergarten eventually should be available to all Fairfax students.

In the long run, he said, he thinks it would mean less spending for remediation.

"It's an equity issue. There's a consensus on the board that full-day kindergarten needs to be implemented throughout the county," Moon said.

But Moon said the School Board, faced with many needs and limited funding, will have to weigh how quickly all-day kindergarten classes can be added. "It probably will come down to the budget," he said.

Board member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill) agreed.

"I think the research is fairly compelling that all children benefit from full-day kindergarten," Gibson said. "The challenge is: How do you provide full-day kindergarten to 5-year-olds without taking something away from 10-year-olds or 15-year-olds?"

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