State funding longer kindergarten programs already in many Minnesota schools
New funding for all-day kindergarten in Minnesota this year won’t make a dramatic difference for regional districts, said superintendents.
Legislators approved a bill last year injecting $134 million into schools to ease costs and expand half-day programs. But several rural districts here have been offering the program for free for years, superintendents said.
The additional money isn’t that significant, especially as the state altered the funding formula and reduced money paid for older students, they said.
Still, the impact of all-day kindergarten is undeniable, according to research. Thief River Falls Principal Patrick Marolt said on average, students are reading at grade level by the end of kindergarten because they receive more than two hours of literacy instruction. His district has offered the program for five years.
“When we had half-day kindergarten, we needed different programs in first grade to get kids at grade level,” he said.
Most districts saw a 3 to 4 percent increase in funding this year because of the law, said East Grand Forks Superintendent David Pace.
While some have provided fee-based programs over the years, the majority of districts have footed the bill, he said.
For the Fertile-Beltrami School District, the new law means an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 extra, said Superintendent Brian Clarke. As enrollment in the small district of 430 continues to decline, it’s not a huge net gain for them, he said.
Like others, Clarke said he appreciated the additional revenue.
“But we could always use more dollars,” he said.
A recently passed operating referendum will also help pay for the program, which the district committed to offering about five years ago, he said.
All-day kindergarten in East Grand Forks has been offered at New Heights Elementary for at least seven years.
Pace said he anticipates receiving an estimated $50,000 to $100,000 extra this year, which allows the district to maintain programming. With growing enrollment this fall, the district had to add two more sections at the elementary level and some new high school programs, too, he said.
Children who attend full-day programs learn more efficiently throughout the year and exhibit more independent learning, higher long-term academic achievement and improvement on standardized test scores, according to research.
But the difference between half-day and full-day kindergarten is also meaningful on a personal level, said Marolt. What you don’t see on test results is the emotional and social aspect that benefits students, he said.
“Kids are learning how to interact with other children and improving their life-long skills, which include sharing, communicating their feelings and helping others,” he said.