Last year the Washington Supreme Court ordered the state to fully implement and fully fund by 2018-2018 the “basic education” program that the legislature had developed to meet constitutional requirements. McCleary Decision. House Bill 2261, an education reform bill passed during the 2009 legislative session, had revised the state’s definition of “basic education” to include, among other things, full-day kindergarten. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn noted that “State funding of full-day kindergarten is a critical component of basic education.” In June the state legislature moved toward partial compliance by appropriating $50 million to expand kindergarten services for 2013-2014.
This appropriation will double the number of kindergartners in full-day classes paid for by the state from 22% to 44%. The state is targeting low income students for priority in the distribution of these funds, but the expansion of free full-day kindergarten will affect students in 269 schools in almost all the state’s counties. Some districts also utilize local money to provide full-day free kindergarten. To achieve universal kindergarten, the Legislature must locate approximately another $100 million by fall 2017.
Parents and teachers praise the implementation of full-day kindergarten. The Highline district’s new director of preschool through third grade discussed the academic preparedness of students beginning 1st grade who attended full-day kindergarten. Teachers noted that half-day kindergarten was not sufficient to properly teach math and reading, and failed to introduce children to science or art.
The new funding does not, however, adequately finance full-day kindergarten even for many of the schools that are eligible to receive the funds because the appropriations cannot be directed toward expanding capital facilities. For example, in the Highline district, the new funds will enable the district to provide all-day kindergarten at seven additional schools, but to do so, it must use $2 million from its own budget to portable classrooms. The district could not, however, provide additional lunchrooms and bathrooms for these students. Some districts, which lack sufficient room for additional classes or funding to purchase portable classrooms, have rejected the state money.
September 18, 2013