Indiana funding jump would end kindergarten fees

February 25, 2012

Parents across Indiana weary of paying sometimes-hefty fees for their children to attend full-day kindergarten classes could soon catch a break.

State legislators are poised to adopt a plan directing about $80 million more in the coming year toward school districts for providing full-day kindergarten — with the caveat that districts can no longer charge extra fees.

The state began providing funding for full-day kindergarten programs in 2005, with that amount growing from an initial $8.5 million to nearly $82 million for the current school year. The state funding for the extra hours of kindergarten classes, however, has always lagged far behind what school districts received for the traditional half-day programs.

That has led many school districts to charge fees ranging from about $1,000 to more than $2,500 a year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday endorsed the additional money for full-day kindergarten that was included in a bill that cleared the House last month on a 96-2 vote.

The plan still must gain final legislative approval, but the Legislature's budget leaders are in agreement that the kindergarten money should be included in the plan to spend a portion of $320 million in corporate taxes that officials found late last year. That money had been collected over four years but not properly deposited in state accounts.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, says he's confident that most school districts will be able to provide full-day kindergarten without additional fees based on a review of school spending on the programs.

School districts now receive about $2,750 — half of the state's average per-pupil funding — for each kindergarten student. The extra funding for next school year will give school districts $2,400 per child to cover the other half of the kindergarten day, up from nearly $1,250 this year.

The state Department of Education and the state's school groups don't track how many districts are charging full-day kindergarten fees, but most districts should be able to afford the programs without those fees, said Dennis Costerison, an education lobbyist and executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

"For many districts, the money will fully fund it and we're getting much, much closer to having a fully funded full-day kindergarten program," Costerison said. "There's no doubt with these dollars."

The expansion of full-day kindergarten programs has been popular with parents.

State Department of Education figures show that nearly 66,500 kindergartners are in full-day programs this school year, with about 11,700 in half-day programs. That is a reversal from 2006, when about 10,000 children attended full-day programs and nearly 66,000 were enrolled in half-day kindergarten.

Some in the Statehouse, however, maintain that the state budget should provide the same amount for full-day kindergartners as it does for older students — and not just partial funding based on an extra pool of money.

"They are going in the right direction, but until that kindergarten student is counted as one student in the count, full-day kindergarten will not be fully funded," said Democratic Rep. Terry Goodin of Austin, who is superintendent of the Crothersville Community Schools.

Goodin said his school district has not been charging for full-day kindergarten, but that he realizes why many others might need to do so.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, doesn't believe districts need as much money to educate a kindergartner as they need for a high school student taking classes such as calculus and chemistry

"I think if we actually went in and did an industrial-level study on how much it costs to teach kindergartners, I think they'd be getting less than they're getting with this," Kenley said.

The state still won't require children to attend kindergarten, but state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett said the funding increase will remove a financial barrier to some families for the full-day program.

"I heard more and more districts say last year they were going to bring kids into full-day kindergarten, so I don't think this is going to do anything but bring in even more," Bennett said.


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