Whatever happened to Full Day Kindergarten, anyway?

I’ve heard, directly and indirectly, from a couple of parents in the last few days who wanted to know what the status was of Superintendent Holland’s proposal for full day kindergarten, so I thought I’d give the lo-down.

If you recall, the School Department initially proposed —and the School Committee backed— a plan to extend the current half day kindergarten program to a full day program back in December. Money to implement the program — about $380,000 — were included in Superintendent Holland’s budget for FY09, but faced resistance from town leaders, like Selectman Angelo Firenze, who suggested that including full day kindergarten might jeopardize plans for a debt exclusion for The Wellington Elementary school. With the town showing a $3 million + budget deficit for FY09, however, the focus quickly shifted from funding full day kindergarten to more urgent problems — like keeping teachers from getting laid off and extracurricular programs from being canceled. Behind the scenes, however, the School Department never gave up on the idea of offering full day K, and quietly shifted from a town-funded program available to all children to a fee-based program, along the lines of what is already offered in neighboring Arlington. As reported by the Belmont Citizen Herald, state grants from the Mass. Dept. of Education to implement and run the program also helped defer the cost of introducing it so that it could be neutral to the FY09 school department budget, and comparable to the costs that families in town already pay for extended day kindergarten (a little over $2,000 per child). Waivers will likely be offered to families who wish to enroll their children in all day kindergarten but cannot afford the cost, according to folks I’ve talked to.

So there it is — we owe a big thanks to Superintendent Holland and the School Department, first for pushing to have all day kindergarten fully funded, and then for agreeing to the next best option: an optional, fee-based all day kindergarten program that gives parents in town the choice to enroll their child or not.