The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 21, 2013

Kindergarten funding to help out districts

Most area districts offer all-day kindergarten already

By Amanda Dyslin
The Mankato Free Press

---- — For most southern Minnesota school districts, the part of the education bill funding all-day kindergarten statewide is a welcomed change.

Almost all districts made the move years ago to offer all-day, everyday kindergarten on their own accord, as numerous educational organizations and studies began touting the importance of early childhood education.

St. Peter Public Schools was one of the first in the area, having offered all-day kindergarten for the past 15 years. The funding, to kick in for the 2014-15 school year, will help offset the cost that has been taken previously from the general fund to pay for the program, said Supt. Jeff Olson.

The St. Peter district is growing. With a projection of between 160 and 170 kindergartners in 2014-15, the district estimates an additional $250,000 in state funding for the all-day kindergarten allocation.

“(The growth) is a really good sign and a really good thing,” Olson said.

The bill increased education spending by $485 million over current levels, and the centerpiece was the $134 million to fund the all-day kindergarten in every school district.

Changes to the per-pupil funding formula are complicated, said Jerry Kolander, director of business affairs for Mankato Area Public Schools. Currently, the state allocates about $5,200 per pupil, and in the 2014-15 school year, that figure will increase to about $5,800.

How students are weighted also will change. Kindergartners, for example, were weighted at about .6 of a pupil unit, whereas pupils in grades 1-3 were about 1.2; pupils in grades 4-6 were about 1.1; and pupils in grades 7-12 were 1.3.

In 2014-15 the adjusted state formula means elementary students, including kindergartners, will be 1.0 and secondary students will be 1.2, Kolander said.

“They tried to make it a little more simple,” Kolander said.

With an estimate of 650 kindergartners for the 2014-15 school year, Mankato Area Public Schools will receive an additional $1.7 million in state funding for all-day kindergarten. The district has offered all-day, everyday kindergarten since 2006, Kolander said.

“It will help in the overall financial stability of the school district,” he said.

Kolander said Mankato Area Public Schools decided years ago there were numerous benefits to offering all-day kindergarten, and most districts have followed suit.

“It's a nice option, especially for families in lieu of doing day care for the students. And it's been identified to be really beneficial for students too, especially those who don't have access to educational programs at a younger age,” he said.

Nicollet Public Schools Supt. Jack Eustice said the big push for all-day kindergarten came more than five years ago. As some districts began to offer the program, neighboring districts felt pressure to follow, he said.

For Nicollet, with an estimated kindergarten class of about 20 or so next year, the district will see about an additional $52,000 in state funding.

“We consider it significant,” he said. “It will help our outlook in the long range. … It will pay our expenses for kindergarten, hopefully.”

For the remaining districts that do not currently offer all-day kindergarten, there may be a need to add classroom space and staffing, Eustice said.

“For some, they don't have the building room,” he said.

Minnesota education officials say they’ve already seen how young students benefit from more time in the classroom. Most of the state’s schools offer full-day and half-day kindergarten.

But research is split on the effectiveness of all-day kindergarten. While researchers can’t seem to find negative consequences, some studies find little difference between kindergartners who attend all day or for a half day.

Other studies have found students in all-day kindergarten do better academically in later grades and have better social skills.

Minnesota Public Radio contributed to this report.