When Cranston in December received a nearly $100,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to establish an all-day kindergarten program, school officials said the city had no choice but to decline the funding because of the manner in which state aid would be provided for children transitioning from half-day classes.
Now, a legislative proposal brought forward by state Sen. Hanna M. Gallo seeks to address that issue by providing full funding for those students starting in the fall of 2015.
“Although the goal of the 2012 [Full-Day Kindergarten Accessibility Act] was to encourage districts to begin offering full-day kindergarten, the transition plan funding scheme is a disincentive and barrier to some school districts to adopt full-day kindergarten,” said Gallo, a Democrat whose District 27 includes Cranston and West Warwick, in a news release. “This bill requires that the additional aid that results from school districts transitioning from half-day to full-day kindergarten be funded outside that original transition plan, and immediately at 100 percent.”
Cranston is one of eight districts in the state that does not offer full-day kindergarten, and five others offer it only on a limited basis. The city received the highest amount of grant funding among the four communities announced in December, with the money meant to cover startup costs for four classrooms.
Under the 2012 law, which Gallo also sponsored, districts with full-day kindergarten in place before its passage receive full funding under the state’s education aid formula. For those instituting full-day classes after its passage, funding is phased in at a rate of 25 percent annually over four years.
That became the central issue in Cranston’s decision to decline the grant funding, with school officials saying the district could not afford the costs of full-day classes without additional aid.
Gallo’s release says “the cost of starting up and providing the full-day programs has continued to be a hindrance for some communities,” and frames the latest proposal as a means of reversing that trend.
“This legislation, if enacted, will eliminate those financial barriers and ensure that all school districts have the opportunity, and fiscal wherewithal, to offer this important early learning experience for all children in the state,” the senator said.
Gallo’s bill would additionally require the commissioner of elementary and secondary education to rank applications from districts moving from half-day to full-day kindergarten, with the districts then funded in order of rank. Top priority would be given to districts with more than 8,000 students, and then to those with more than 4,000.
“In essence, we want the greatest number of students to benefit from this money, especially in the budgetary climate we operate in today,” the senator said. “We want to provide our largest school districts that may have greater start-up costs with the ability to do the necessary and often expensive upgrades for full-day programs that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive.”
Gallo said her proposal is motivated by the importance of full-day kindergarten for students’ future success.
“Statistics show that early childhood education helps better prepare students for the academic challenges they will face in elementary school,” she said. “When children are better prepared from the start, it allows for accelerated learning and more time for teachers to provide meaningful learning opportunities. Full-day kindergarten is essential to smooth the transition into first grade and to developing solid cognitive, physical and social skills in the classroom.”
Gallo’s bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. Its co-sponsors include Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston).