The Mankato Area Public Schools District is making a wise choice as it moves toward expanding to all-day, everyday kindergarten for next school year.

The school district has wanted to adopt all-day kindergarten for a decade. The proof of its advantages are well-established. Research says children who attend all-day, everyday kindergarten benefit academically and are better prepared for first grade, especially the disadvantaged children.

Four of 10 elementary schools in the district offer the all-day program already, three of them qualifying for state funding to do so because of the high number of low-income families attending those schools. But the application of the program in the Mankato district is inconsistent. There are children at every school who would benefit from an all-day, everyday program whose schools do not now offer the program.

The concept is not new. Many nearby districts offer all-day, everyday kindergarten as well as most of the private schools in town. In the state, 53 percent of school districts have full-day kindergarten.

Not surprisingly, the Mankato district has held back because of funding. Because the Legislature has not approved state funds to provide full-day kindergarten throughout the state, about $700,000 in already existing district funds will have to be redirected for the Mankato program.

Another obstacle is that increasing elementary enrollment in the district means space is getting tight. And although plans will have to be made by the School Board to expand schools and/or build a new one even if kindergarten isn’t expanded, full-day kindergarten will exacerbate the crowding situation.

At the same time kindergarten is being expanded, other cuts in the district will affect programs that feed into it. The Early Childhood Family Education program is making cuts to the 4Kids Preschool Program and Camp Ready Set Go, both of which help mostly disadvantaged preschoolers prepare for kindergarten. Although cuts in the district are never easy and are often necessary, it doesn’t make much sense to trim a preschool program that prepares lower-income children for kindergarten.

Funding existing programs and expanding others is a complicated situation that doesn’t have an easy solution. District officials and board members, however, know all-day everyday kindergarten is the best move for Mankato-area children and are tired of waiting for lawmakers to approve funding.

Franklin Elementary teacher Sue Sundborg has taught half-day and full-day kindergarten and said she much prefers the full-day approach. She said it lets students delve more deeply into the curriculum, allowing them to process and digest it. That doesn’t mean drilling 5- and 6-year olds all day at their little tables and desks. That means incorporating new skills into projects and play time.

Sundborg hopes she never has to go back to teaching half days. We’re hoping all kids will get to be part of classrooms just like hers.

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