It’s Time GPPSS Moved Forward With No-Fee All Day Kindergarten

A loophole in how Michigan distributes per pupil revenue has long allowed public schools to get twice what they really deserved for half-day kindergarten students.  But charging for extended day kindergarten amounts to taxing residents twice.  For this and other reasons I am advocating a district-wide switch to a no-fee All Day Kindergarten program for 2010-11.

In my last post and at the Board of Education meeting on January 25th I spent a great deal of time emphasizing that Michigan public schools derive their revenue on a per pupil basis.  The per pupil funding is known as the Foundation Allowance.  The Foundation Allowance does not distinguish between between a half-day student and a regular, full-day student.  This has been a pretty good deal for school districts.

Why?  Simple.  If we receive full per pupil funding for half-day kindergarten students it means that we essentially educate them at half the cost of most of our other students.  This is good for the district and, arguably, the other district services subsidized by the business model.

But it’s not so good if you are among the ever growing group of families who prefer their son or daughter go for more than half a day of kindergarten.  In response to this demand school districts have created programs called Extended Day Kindergarten (EDK).  But many districts, including GPPSS, charge a fee for EDK.

Charging for EDK is a real sore point for families who prefer this service for their children.  What’s more, the need for ADK is on the rise for purely educational reasons.

Having been on the Board for over four years now, I know many families feel this is unfair.  They make a compelling case that they are being taxed twice.  After all, they pay taxes.  The district is receiving its full per pupil funding for that student.  Yet they have to pay again just so their child can go to school all day – just like all the other students.  It’s a logical argument.

EDK is not a nominal fee either – projected to be over $4,000 next fall.  The district runs the program on a break even basis.  It is becoming an increasingly popular option.  The problem is that as costs escalate we are pricing ourselves out of the business.

Why is all or extended day kindergarten so popular?  Some want to dismiss EDK as inexpensive day care.  I don’t.  I know how important education is to Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods families.  Don’t get me wrong.  Kindergarten is still nurturing and our teachers are incredibly sensitive to the needs of these young learners.

But state prescribed grade level content expectations (GLCEs) have placed an increasingly higher demand on real academic achievement at the early elementary level.  I think many people would be quite surprised at what GPPSS kindergarten students learn.  It’s at least the new first grade, if not more advanced, and showing no signs of slowing down.  Recall the recently approved new state graduation requirements, with such characteristics as Algebra 2.  You don’t get started on that path as a freshman.  It all roots way back to where you begin.  The mark of a great district is one that puts students in the best position to succeed and the bar is always getting higher.

Our teachers and administrators are almost unanimous in their support of a switch to a district-wide ADK format.  They’re in the trenches and know what students need.  One teacher felt so strongly she compiled the following points and sent it to me:

  • Over 75% of kindergartners in the nation now attend all day.  Due to No Child Left Behind Laws, most states have mandated it.
  • Teacher’s  manuals and programs for reading, math, science, and social studies are all written for all day programs over the half day programs.  Half day programs must choose what to eliminate due to time constraints.
  • Curriculum and State Expectations (GLCE’s) are also geared to all day programs.  The push down of first grade expectations has forced many kindergarten teachers to supplement their teaching with parent aids in order to cover the material.
  • At risk students benefit most from the all day experience.  It provides an enriched environment that is often lacking.  Title II funds were used last year to fund one all day kindergarten class.  It was cancelled, though the need was great, due to the inequity of free versus paid kindergarten in this district.
  • We have lost many students to all day programs.  We have lost students to paid programs in other schools as well as to free charter school programs and school of choice programs.

Can we afford to make the switch to a no-fee All Day Kindergarten?  I say we must find a way.  It’s simply the right thing to do and we’re a better district if we make this move.

This all begs the question, knowing that the traditional half-day kindergarten has been essentially a money maker for school districts, how can we now – at the height of financial distress – make such a decision?

Personally speaking I know we would be a better district if we made this move and I do not want to compromise on the things that I know will make us better.  Furthermore, the state is wise to this wrinkle in the Foundation Allowance and has made it clear that mandated ADK is on the horizon for Michigan public schools. I’d rather be in front of that problem than run over by it.

As a Board we’ve committed to a “zero-based budgeting” philosophy for the adoption of the 2010-11 budget.  This says we’re starting with a clean sheet of paper.  If we ask ourselves, starting with a clean sheet of paper, would we have a no-fee ADK in GPPSS or not?  There is no doubt.  We would.

Recalling that we derive our revenue on a per pupil basis, if we were able to attract 100 incremental kindergarten students whose families otherwise spend money to send their children to fee-based all day programs, the option becomes very affordable.  This should be the goal.  Let’s go compete for those students using the great assets available to public schools, enjoyed by a majority of families in the district.

What’s the downside?  Well, families rightly cherish time with their kindergarten age children.  A half-day program can provide just the right transition period for many, as it did for my wife and I and our three children who went to Defer for kindergarten.

I recognize this and am not advocating for mandatory ADK.  I believe the program can be designed in such a way to accommodate those needs.  But as things stand now, it’s not fair to accommodate only the needs of those families and tax everyone else twice.  Let’s be deliberate.  Let’s be cost conscious.  Let’s accomodate what the residents want, but let’s get on with becoming a better district.

The Board will be voting on this issue at our next meeting, February 22nd, at 8pm at Grosse Pointe North’s library.  Please share your feedback (schoolboard@gpschools.org).  We will be getting more details in the next couple of weeks.  One significant piece of data will be the results of a survey on the topic.  You can take the survey here.

Post Script:

The no-fee All Day Kindergarten proposal was approved at the February Board of Education meeting.  It was agreed that ADK would not be mandated for all students and that a half day option would be made available for parents who prefer that model.

To clarify for all, GPPSS has for year offered an extended day kindergarten option along with half-day.  This proposal does not represent the district’s first endeavor for an All Day option, but merely renders it a tuition free program.  In my view, this is a tax cut for our residents and I am glad to have advocated for this program.

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3 Comments

Filed under Current Events, GPPS Academics, GPPS Budget Decisions, GPPS Policy, Meeting or Agenda Announcement

3 responses to “It’s Time GPPSS Moved Forward With No-Fee All Day Kindergarten

  1. Jeff Edwards

    I appreciate your comments and opinions, but respectfully, disagree. The argument that parents are “taxed” twice will no longer be valid starting with the 2010-11 school year, because the state of Michigan will cut the funding for half-day kindergarten. They will only see half of the per-pupil money, so the “loop hole” you mention has been resolved. Therefore, this problem is in no need of fixing since the state has cut the funding.

    Secondly, this whole issue is about money…money the school will be losing because of half-day kindergarten and money the parents will be saving by not sending their kids to day-care or extended learning. The whole article above talks about money, nothing about the benefit for the children…maybe paragraph or 2 which mentions it, but the children should be the primary concern not the secondary concern.

    Lastly, there are even amount of studies which show all day kindergarten is beneficial or not to the child. Therefore, there are no great reasons to do this other than money.

    I am open minded about the possibility of all day kindergarten, but I don’t see any benefit for my child education wise. I feel he/she will get along with school and life perfectly fine going to school a half a day when they are age 5…making it a full day isn’t going to beneficial in the long run. The only thing this benefits are the wallets.

    • Brendan Walsh

      We cartainly cannot ignore the financial issue, but in this case it’s important to note that this proposal would increase the cost to the district. So the district does not have financial incentive to make this move. Also, the Granholm intention is to mandate ADK. She may provide added incentive by reducing funding to those districts that do not comply, but it would be unwise for our district to not prepare for this almost certain eventuality that ADK will be mandated.

      Many families feel as you do that half-day kindergarten is preferred. In a recent survey of 838 respondents, 18% feel as you do. The plan would be to accomodate your interests and those of the 18% and allow you to remove your child half-way through the day. Meanwhile, 65% who prefer ADK would be accomodated. I think it’s important to do the best we can to meet the needs of as many of our families as possible. In this proposal, we would be able to do so.

      I am sure studies can be found to support both sides of this issue (regarding the benefit of ADK). But among our professional staff of educators, unanimously the kindergarten teachers and elementary principals endorse a move to ADK.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. It appears if this proposal passes, your interests would be accomodated as well as those of others.

      Brendan

  2. Glenn M. Watson

    Jeff:

    You said “The whole article above talks about money, nothing about the benefit for the children…maybe paragraph or 2 which mentions it, but the children should be the primary concern not the secondary concern.”

    It seems to me that the notion of the benefits of extended learning are implicit to most parents. The fact that the proposal works financially only makes it better. We live in a world where more education is better than less, and I can from personal experience at some other schools that there are students here in Michigan from other countries whom are highly motivated and educated, and I believe proposals like this one can begin to close that gap.

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