Policy causes budget quandary

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Research has linked a host of benefits to full-day kindergarten, which education advocates and policymakers say should become the new standard. These benefits include:

  • Fewer English-language learners held back
  • More time engaged in reading and math lessons and greater gains
  • Teachers have the time to plan better lessons

In general, CPS forwards to schools only enough money for them to offer half-day kindergarten. It forces the majority of schools to use their own discretionary money if they want to have a full-day program.

The Illinois State Board of Education counts children in full-day kindergarten like any other child when allocating state aid, providing the full amount. Students in half-day only get half as much as a full-day student.

For those schools that have only half-day, the district is losing out on state money. But for those with full-day, the district is using some of the state allocation elsewhere in its budget, rather than covering the schools’ costs.

About 1,680 CPS kindergarteners are in half-day programs, according to a CPS projection. If they switched to full-day programs, CPS officials say it would cost the district an extra $2,000 per student or $3.4 million, not including furniture, equipment or facilities. The extra teachers would cost $2.1 million, based on an average salary of $70,842.

However, by offering full-day kindergarten to every student, the district would stand to get an additional $3,000 in state aid. But there are other financial brakes. State aid is volatile and can be stagnant or reduced each year, even as teacher salaries are on the rise. The allocation is based on the average number of students in attendance and could be offset by declines in enrollment or a spike in truancy. And the district would end up fronting the money for full-day for one to three years.

Plus, not all schools want or can offer full-day kindergarten. Some parents think young children should not be in school for a full day, and children are not required to attend kindergarten in any case, since the state’s compulsory school age is 7.

Some schools don’t have enough classroom space to accommodate full-day programs.

One solution might be for CPS to expand its four-hour kindergarten programs—the half-day program is only two hours and 35 minutes of instruction. The state counts students in four-hour programs as full-time. Yet one teacher could teach two four-hour groups in one classroom, thus minimizing the extra cost. There are 75 four-hour classes in CPS, according to district projections.