District poll: Charging for kindergarten is common | AspenTimes.com
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District poll: Charging for kindergarten is common

Eben Harrell

Charging parents for a full day of kindergarten will bring Aspen’s school district in line with education policies across Colorado and the nation, according to a recent poll conducted by district officials.

The Aspen School District is the only one in the state that offers full-day kindergarten for free, Aspen Superintendent Diana Sirko said.

But a Kansas-based education expert warned that students who participate in only half-day kindergarten will be dangerously behind their classmates entering first grade and might feel the effects for years.

Last Wednesday, the school board met with parents concerned that Aspen will introduce tuition for full-day kindergarten students to help balance a budget deficit. In preparation for the meeting, school officials called approximately 80 districts around Colorado to determine their policies on kindergarten.

Sirko said their research revealed that the majority of Colorado schools don’t offer full-day programs. Those that do offer a full day – approximately a quarter of the state’s schools – all charge for the extra service.

The exception is so-called “Title 1” schools that serve an underprivileged population. These schools receive federal subsidies to run full-day classes.

Most schools charge between $250-$350 a month for the extra half-day classes. The Roaring Fork School district charges $266. Aspen plans to charge $320.

Half-day kindergarten is also the norm in public schools across America, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. Only nine states fund full-day kindergarten, though many offer full days in exchange for tuition.

Lisa Klein of Hastia, a consulting company that focuses on childhood education, believes half-day kindergarten harms children’s development.

She cited a large study funded by the federal government that showed full-day students had higher cognitive gains than half-day students three years after kindergarten.

“There is a scientific research base out there on this,” Klein said. “These studies show that students that come out of kindergarten have higher test scores for years after they enter first grade. There are even some studies that point to cognitive differences 20 years down the road.”

She said these studies undermine conventional wisdom that kindergarten-aged students need only a rich environment to develop, something that can be offered at home as easily as the classroom.

“Across America, there is a move among experts to push for a curriculum-based early education program. So-called ‘enriched environments’ at home or in the classroom are no longer thought to be enough,” Klein said.

Sirko agreed that full-day kindergarten is vital for a child’s development. She said if charges are implemented the district will ensure all students have access to full-day kindergarten through a generous financial aid program.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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