There appears to be no argument that full-day kindergarten prepares kids to learn better than half-day kindergarten. At least there wasn’t any argument from legislators interviewed Tuesday, including Warwick Republican Rep. Joseph Trillo, who is among the best at beating the drum for less government and fewer mandates.
If anything, Trillo wants to see a cut in government spending but, apart from the benefits to children, he said full-day kindergarten could enable more parents to work to help them pay their property taxes.
But paying property taxes wasn’t one of the benefits W. Steven Barnett cited in a briefing Tuesday to legislators. Barnett is co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. Using findings of a New Jersey study, Barnett said children in full-day K have more time to participate in learning activities; learn more and have better test scores in years to follow. Carrying that forward, he said students who perform well in school are less likely to end up in the criminal justice system and more likely to graduate.
Barnett was the guest of Rhode Island Kids Count, the non-profit dedicated to improving the health, education, economic well-being and safety of children.
Kids Count endorses mandating full-day kindergarten as introduced by Representatives Roberto DaSilva of East Providence and Joy Hearn of Barrington and East Providence.
At this time, 17 districts have full-day K and 19 others, including Warwick, have half-day. Extending full-day to all districts would cost the state an additional $9 million a year under the current school funding formula, said Andrew Andrade of the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Warwick does not have universal full-day. Only about 62 out of 620 kindergarteners are full-day students, according to the state Department of Education.
But that is only a part of the cost; cities and towns would be faced with making up the difference.
Warwick Superintendent Peter Horoschak said, earlier this week, he would oppose all-day K if the mandate was not funded.
Kids Count executive director Elizabeth Burke Bryant sees benefits to both pre-K and full-day K programs. She said studies show that high quality programs build upon themselves, enabling children to do better in school and later on in life.
“There are cost benefits down the line,” she said.
“I’m all for full-day K,” Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri said, “apart from how are we gong to finance it.” Ferri said, “Kids are losing knowledge” when not in school. He favors shorter vacations and programs that keep children academically active.
“If you want to improve education, you start with pre-K and full-day K and it will pay off,” said Rep. Joseph McNamara. He said full-day results in higher test scores, fewer repeats, higher graduation rates and less reliance on social services.
While full-day would mean additional costs to those municipalities with half-day, unless there was an increase in state aid, the League of Cities and Towns have not taken a position on the issue.
Daniel Beardsley, the league’s executive director, said the organization has viewed full-day as a “local decision.”
“It has its pros and cons,” he said, “there are some cost factors that some cities can’t meet.”