The extended General Assembly budget session brought an $18.4 million windfall to Prince William schools, which will go toward all-day kindergarten for some of the county's poorest students and for renovations at two high schools.
The money will also be used to pay for technology resource teachers and technicians, and for remedial and early intervention programs. However, extra school time for more than 700 young students is a major change for the county, which now offers "extended-day" programs at only a handful of schools.
"We've been talking about this for some time," said Superintendent Edward L. Kelly.
Staff members are still working out the details of the all-day kindergarten program, which would cost about $2.8 million in its first year. The program would be limited to half of the kindergarten students at the 18 county schools that receive federal Title I funds, which are earmarked for schools with a large population of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty.
Those schools are Bel Air, Belmont, Dale City, Dumfries, Featherstone, Kerrydale, Kilby, Marumsco Hills, Minnieville, Mullen, Neabsco, Occoquan, Potomac View, River Oaks, Sinclair, Triangle, West Gate and Yorkshire elementaries.
Schools would likely test their students to find out which ones are starting school behind in their reading skills, and those students would be eligible for the all-day program, said Pamela Gauch, associate superintendent for instruction.
Minnieville Elementary in Woodbridge has already devoted some of its Title I money to an extended-day program for 20 students. Many of them started school unable to recognize the letters in their own names. By the time they finished their kindergarten year, all of them had passed a standard test for literacy in young children.
The extra money "will be welcomed here with open arms," said Minnieville Principal Jarcelynn Hart.
West Gate Elementary near Manassas has an extended-day program that focuses on students who enter school with little literacy in Spanish, their native language. The idea is that students can more easily make the transition to English if they learn numbers, letters, colors and other subjects in Spanish first. The children also spend part of the day in an all-English kindergarten class.
Diana Lambert-Aikens, West Gate's principal, anticipates expanding the program to include English-speaking youngsters who also need reading help. "It'll benefit all our children," Lambert-Aikens said.
The money will also accelerate the addition of permanent walls at Woodbridge and Osbourn Park, two open-plan high schools built with few walls between classrooms. Such architecture was common in the 1970s but has since fallen out of fashion.
Gar-Field, also an open school, will finish its renovations this summer. Stonewall Jackson High School is scheduled to begin renovations this summer and finish up by 2005.
Osbourn Park and Woodbridge were not scheduled to start until 2007. The state money helps push the work forward.
The extra money is coming because the state is beginning to pay more of its share for a standard education, Kelly said.
For years, the state has paid a percentage of the cost of a basic education, but Prince William and many other jurisdictions provide far more than that. When the state does not pay for such programs, the school division uses county funds to make up the difference. But the state has begun paying for art, music and physical education teachers at elementary schools, and is now paying for a seven-period high school day, instead of a six-period day long abandoned by most districts in the state.
Kelly said he's thanked the county's representatives for changing the formula to allow more money to flow to school districts. "They're still not fully funded, but they've come closer," he said.