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Michigan schools may offer more full day kindergarten this fall

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Full day kindergarten may be in store for more Michigan children, due to changes in the school aid budget.

Schools currently get the same amount of per pupil funding whether they offer half day kindergarten or full day kindergarten. But starting this fall, schools that offer half day kindergarten will see their per pupil funding for those students cut in half.

The state legislature approved the school budget funding change last year.

Here are several different school districts' takes on the changes:

One size does not fit all

Livingston County's Brighton Public Schools currently get the full $7,000 per pupil for half day kindergarten students. They’ll get $3,500 for half day kindergarten students beginning with the 2012 school year.

Greg Gary is superintendent for Brighton area schools. He says the drop in funding is going to hurt his budget, but he refuses to cut half day kindergarten from the schedule:

"Not every kid is going to excel in a full day program. I have two children, and I would have put one in full day kindergarten, and one in half day kindergarten, because kids are different."

Students will benefit from a longer school day

Marcia Wilkinson, communications director for the Birmingham Public Schools district in Oakland County, has a different take on the shift towards more full day kindergarten.

The district currently offers free half day kindergarten, and fee-based extended day options.

Starting this fall, the district will offer free, full day kindergarten, and a few half day options if there's enough parent demand for it.

We are "very pleased to be moving in this direction," says Wilkinson. "With the changes in the core curriculum, core standards, we believe this will be a great delivery method for the kindergarten curriculum, and that the students will really benefit."

She says the switch to full day kindergarten will require some classroom construction, and more teachers will likely be hired. Wilkinson says it's likely the change will cost the district around $1 million - $1.5 million.

It's a lose-lose decision either way

Over in Ann Arbor, district officials are still deciding whether to stick with half day kindergarten options, or move exclusively to full day kindergarten.

Liz Margolis is with the Ann Arbor Public Schools district in Washtenaw County. She says either way, it's "a lose, lose" situation in terms of cost for districts:

"You’re going to lose because they’re going to cut your funding, or you’re going to have to spend more money than you’re currently spending on kindergarten to offer the all-day at every single school."

Margolis says they conducted a survey of district parents a couple years ago, and they found that "close to 80% of the families" in the area wanted an all day kindergarten option for their children.

The bottom line

John Helmholdt, director of Communications & External affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools in Kent County, describes the district as "one of the model examples of providing all-day kindergarten, with all but 5 of its elementary schools offering full day kindergarten.

Still, he says, the new kindergarten funding model will cost the Grand Rapids school district $3.3 million.

The district currently uses a combination of state dollars (per pupil funding) and federal dollars (Title 1) to pay for full day kindergarten.

"By doing so, that actually allows us to free up some of that per pupil funding and put it where else it may be needed, which is particularly at the high school and alternative education levels, where it just simply costs more to provide those services."

Helmholdt says because of the way the new state school funding model is written, kindergarten per pupil funding can no longer be diverted to cover other areas of the school budget.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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