Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Full day Kindergarten - free or tuition based?

"Tell me what you think of Paid Kindergarten @$2600.00 per child."

This question came in from a loyal reader of Franklin Matters. Hmm, I thought paid kindergarten was offered by private schools. I did not realize that public schools could charge tuition so I went looking.

The map is contained in the Appendix of the Kindergarten report from the DESE referenced below. Focusing in a little closer on the map reveals Franklin and the surrounding communities.

Franklin's neighboring communities

DistrictFull-dayAvailabilityFree or TuitionQuality GrantTuition

FY10 Kindergarten programs available by municipality and at charter schools

As usual, the devil is in the details. The MA state regulations are very clear on the following:

(1) All school districts shall provide kindergarten education for all eligible children.
(2) Class size for kindergartens shall not exceed an average of 25.
(3) Kindergarten classes shall be taught by qualified and certified teachers.
Regulatory Authority: 603 CMR 8.00: M.G.L. c.69, §1B

MA state regulations go on to say:
All school districts are required to provide a free, part-time kindergarten education for eligible children. Although the department strongly encourages all districts to offer full-day kindergarten free of charge, districts may charge tuition for hours beyond the 425 instructional hours required for part-time kindergarten.
Districts receiving state funds under the Quality Full-Day Kindergarten grant program that charge tuition must abide by the following requirements and submit a signed Statement of Assurance to the Office of Elementary School Services. All School Committees and the staff involved in kindergarten registration and determining income eligibility should also be informed of these policies.

The bold I added for emphasis and therein lies the difference between "tuition-based" kindergarten and "free" kindergarten. MA is continuing to move to requiring full-day kindergarten across the state. The most recent update on this progress to full-day kindergarten mentioned the following:

Between FY00 and FY10 the percentage of kindergarten students attending full-day programs grew from 29 percent to 77 percent of students who attend public school kindergarten. A variety of factors has contributed to the growth of full-day programs, including a commitment by districts to expand their early education programs and the support provided by the state. 

There are now 279 districts in the Commonwealth that have some or all full-day kindergarten. Universal, voluntary full-day kindergarten is a key component of an early care and education system for children birth to third grade. Kindergarten is the threshold year in children’s lives and education, merging home, non-public and public early education and care and preschool programs into the public education system. Funding for the Kindergarten Development Grant Program in the last eleven fiscal years (FY00 to FY10) has supported school districts’ voluntary transition from half-day to full-day kindergarten and the ongoing quality enhancement of existing full-day programs.

The benefits of full-day kindergarten can be maintained and magnified as children continue in school. It can contribute to cost savings and improve educational outcomes if the elements of quality are in place from preschool through third grade, with strong leadership at every level. The Department is committed to full-day kindergarten programs even during fiscally strained times. If there is a need to restructure funding, the Department is open to targeting grant awards to high need districts, including those that meet the new accountability and assistance system schools in levels 3 and 4. We also want to ensure that the Chapter 70 reimbursement policy promotes tuition-free full-day kindergarten and creates disincentives for eliminating existing full-day kindergarten programs.

The full report can be found here:

The other important difference has to do with full-day versus half-day kindergarten. According to the MA state regulations, half-day kindergarten must be free. A school district can charge for full-day kindergarten but it is not as easy as it sounds. The kindergarten educational curriculum required by the state must be delivered free. So even if you have a full-day program and decide to charge for it, the required curriculum must be delivered during the "free" half-day. 

Chapter 70 funds from the state are provided according to a complicated formula. One key number in the formula is the number of eligible students. If you do have a full-day tuition based kindergarten, those students come out of the Chapter 70 reimbursement. So will the community be able to charge enough to fully fund the service they provide and offset the Chapter 70 reimbursement they lose? Not likely.

To explore this further I sat down with Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski, Director of Finance Miriam Goodman, and Karen Seyfried, Principal/Director of F.X. O'Regan Early Childhood Development Center.

Franklin offers free full day kindergarten for several reasons:

1 - The Franklin Public School philosophy aligns with the State's direction on full day kindergarten. Early and developmentally appropriate education pays great benefits. The district has been a high-performing district for some time. It is no coincidence that full day kindergarten has been instrumental to the district's success. When other districts go to the State DESE for guidance on how to implement full day kindergarten, Franklin is used as a reference. Franklin Public Schools welcomes such discussions and visits.

2 - Full day kindergarten helps the district manage its Special Education costs. As acknowledged with the quote from the state above, early identification and remediation of instructional issues help the student overcome them quicker. While overall 'out of district' education costs are determined by the state, Franklin helps to control its own destiny with full day kindergarten. It may seem to be a "no-brainer" but this does help. Fewer students require special education with the Franklin program and those that do generally require less of a program overall. Over 90% of the ECDC students go into a general classroom.

3 - Even if Franklin were to explore a tuition-based program for full-day kindergarten, the costs and issues for implementation would not be covered by the money generated by the tuition. The curriculum today is delivered over a full day schedule. Moving to a tuition-based full day would require reworking the curriculum so that the required portion could be covered in the 'free' half day portion leaving the 'enrichment' program for the remaining half day. The tuition lost by removing the kindergarteners from the Chapter 70 reimbursement would require that the tuition charge be in excess of $4300 per student in order to break-even. This would be cost prohibitive.

So while Franklin is surrounded by communities where most charge for kindergarten, it is not a viable option, nor the right direction for Franklin.