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Providing Equal Access to Full-Day Kindergarten

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In the education-reform shopping mall, the product moving fastest off the shelves appears to be early-childhood programs. Florida voters were so eager for pre-kindergarten classes that they passed a statewide ballot measure they could not afford. Similar measures have done well in other states. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has made preschool a key part of his agenda.

Of course, when government raises expectations and then fails to deliver, parents complain. Here is an exchange of e-mails between a Fairfax County parent and a Fairfax official over the issue. Who is right?

Mr. Storck:

I am a parent of a child who will be going into kindergarten in the fall at Stratford Landing Elementary School. We have been lucky enough to have him enrolled in an excellent private preschool in the area. He has excelled in pre-K and is eagerly looking forward to attending kindergarten. Of the 44 children who will be graduating from his preschool, only two will be going to Stratford Landing. But this is the only school in our county cluster that does not offer a full-day kindergarten program.

Research from the Alexandria public schools clearly demonstrates that children in full-day kindergarten, across socioeconomic and ethnic groups, perform better on the Cognitive Ability Test than their peers in half-day kindergarten programs. Also, Fairfax County prominently promotes the benefits of full-day kindergarten, including a video clip on its Web site.

As a taxpayer and voter in Fairfax, I feel that it is unfair that children who live less than a mile away will be getting the equivalent of two times the education our son will be getting next year. I learned that the cost to implement full-day kindergarten at Stratford Landing for the 2009-10 school year would be $260,000. After meeting with the teachers at the Stratford Landing kindergarten orientation, I learned that because of the half-day situation, music and movement meet only once a week (in first through sixth grade, it is every day). Art is offered once every two weeks. Recess is the first to be dropped if the teachers feel pressured to keep up with the curriculum. A full-day program would easily remedy these issues.

Although there are other programs that need funds in the county, I believe one of the most equitable, and certainly the most important, would be to get the full-day kindergarten in place at Stratford Landing.

David Weinraub

Mr. Weinraub:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding adding full-day kindergarten to Stratford Landing this coming school year. I am fully aware of the benefits of full-day kindergarten, and strongly support its addition to Stratford Landing and all our elementary schools. However, our ability to do so is directly tied to the funding available. Full-day kindergarten's per-student funding for next year's budget is more than $500 lower than this year, with no raises for any employees, increasing class sizes and cuts in many other programs, besides full-day kindergarten, that I believe are critical to our children's education.

The full-day kindergarten implementation formula (risk factor index) the School Board debated and adopted several years ago is an equitable one for distributing our very limited funds. The elementary schools that have full-day kindergarten have received it because of their risk factor index. This index is calculated according to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and limited English proficient students in a school. The higher the risk factor, the sooner a school receives full-day kindergarten. The only exception to that rule was made almost 10 years ago, before my service, for those schools that agreed to adopt the "Success by Eight" program, such as Waynewood Elementary School, which is based upon multi-age K-2 classrooms.

Even though Stratford Landing is one of the next schools on the list, without a dramatic improvement in the economy or new county revenue sources, it seems unlikely, at this time, that Stratford Landing will get full-day kindergarten for the 2010-11 school year, either. I wish that I had better news, but Fairfax County still has almost a third of its elementary schools with no full-day kindergarten, and the prospects of receiving additional funding next year are poor at this time.

Dan Storck

Chairman,

Fairfax County School Board

Mr. Storck:

Thank you for responding. I understand how the formula for full-day kindergarten has been used in the past. I believe it is time to throw it out. Studies have shown the benefits of full-day kindergarten outweigh the costs. If Fairfax County is unable to implement full-day kindergarten in every school, it is a shame.

As our representative, I would hope you would fight to have it in all schools in your district. There are other county programs that could be cut to fund full-day kindergarten at Stratford Landing with minimal impact to the county (for example, foreign languages in the elementary schools with a larger number of ESL students). If some consider that unfair, so be it. It's unfair that every other school in our cluster has had full-day kindergarten for some time, and Stratford Landing has not. It's unfair that it has already been determined that the two new elementary schools opening this fall will have full-day kindergarten, and Stratford Landing does not.

David Weinraub

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