Our view: State can follow Duluth's lead, invest in all-day kindergartenThen a principal at Homecroft elementary, Bill Gronseth saw with absolute clarity what studies had been touting for years: All-day kindergarten, as opposed to just half-days, gave kids a jump-start on learning and led to remarkable academic success.
Then a principal at Homecroft elementary, Bill Gronseth saw with absolute clarity what studies had been touting for years: All-day kindergarten, as opposed to just half-days, gave kids a jump-start on learning and led to remarkable academic success.
“They were achieving more,” Gronseth, now superintendent of Duluth public schools, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “When they were leaving kindergarten they had better reading skills and better math skills and better emotional skills. They were much more independent. And when they went into first grade, it was pretty evident to first-grade teachers which ones had all-day kindergarten and which ones did not.”
For years, Duluth offered half-day kindergarten. Then, because some parents demanded it and opened their checkbooks, the district started offering full-day kindergarten to those willing to pay and to others who really needed it.
“But that wasn’t a fair system, to be honest,” Gronseth said. It was unfair to the majority of Duluth kindergarteners whose parents couldn’t afford, or chose not to afford, to send their tikes for full days.
So, in 2009, following many months of discussion and debate, the school district decided to start offering full-day, every-day kindergarten to all. The decision was part of the strategies adopted to close the achievement gap between majority-white students and students of color, as determined by a community group that worked with the district’s Learning Services Lead Team, Indian Education, the Office of Education
Equity, and the Education Equity Advisory Committee.
(Many parochial and private schools in Duluth also offer all-day kindergarten or the choice between full-time and part-time, including the Lakeview Christian Academy and the Duluth Area Catholic Schools: Holy Rosary, St. James, St. John’s and St. Michael’s.)
The move from half-day to full-day kindergarten cost the Duluth public schools about
$1.1 million. Rather than as an expense, the district treated the outlay as an investment that’ll pay off handsomely down the road when fewer kids are getting into trouble and increasing court, jail and law-enforcement costs; and when fewer kids are growing up to become recipients of public assistance or otherwise a burden on taxpayers.
Although the Minnesota Department of Education encourages districts to offer full-day, every-day kindergarten, only 57 percent of districts do. Another 17 percent offer the unfair-to-less-wealthy-families option of paying for full-day, something that can set families back $3,000 to $4,000 a year.
But all-day, every-day kindergarten soon could be offered statewide — and paid for by the state.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget included $40 million for all-day, every-day kindergarten.
And Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Tower, told editorial board members from ECM Publishers of Coon Rapids, Minn., last week that he’ll push for full state funding for all-day, every-day kindergarten, a number that may reach as high as $170 million.
“We know it’s a good investment,” Sen. Bakk told the board members, according to the Forest Lake Times.
“We know it works,” Tom Dooher, president of the 70,000-member teachers union, Education Minnesota, said in a meeting last week with the News Tribune Opinion page.
The union has identified all-day, every-day kindergarten as one of its legislative priorities this session.
“We have to make sure we have the investment,” Dooher said, “and that it’s an ongoing investment. … To have an excellent work force you need a good education system.”
Responsibility for making all-day, every-day kindergarten a high priority statewide for all, regardless of income or ZIP code, falls to the governor and to lawmakers in St. Paul. The benefits of making the investment ought to be as clear to them as they were to educators in Duluth, including Gronseth.
“It was the right thing to do,” Gronseth said of Duluth.
It can be just as right for the state of Minnesota.