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States Take Steps for Full-Day Kindergarten

By Adrienne Lu

In the not too distant past, kindergarten was a place where children learned to color, share and play. But a higher regard for kindergarten is emerging, including a move toward all-day sessions in some states, as a growing body of research underscores the importance of learning in the earliest years.

The percentage of kindergartners attending full-day programs has grown from about 10 percent in the 1970s to about 76 percent in 2012, with a steep increase between 2002 and 2006, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit research center. While some programs took a hit during the recession, several states have taken action recently to expand access to full-day kindergarten. Part-day kindergarten typically last two or three hours, while full-day kindergarten can range from four to seven hours.

Washington lawmakers, for example, added $50 million to spending on full-day kindergarten this school year, making twice as many children eligible to attend full-day classes compared to last year. The state expects to offer full-day kindergarten to all students by 2017-18.

Minnesota last year allocated $134 million to allow all school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, and state officials expect close to 95 percent of students will attend full-day programs starting in September. Currently, just over half of kindergartners in Minnesota public school attend full-day programs.

Indiana has provided funding for universal, voluntary full-day kindergarten since the 2012-13 school year. In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a five-year $80 million plan to allow all kindergarten students to attend full-day programs.

Advocates say publicly funded full-day kindergarten programs help the youngest students build a strong foundation for the rest of their learning. And while prekindergarten has received significant attention in recent years, including President Barack Obama’s proposal for universal preschool, some argue that full-day kindergarten is also vital. (The president’s plan would encourage states to expand full-day kindergarten once preschool is available to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income households.)
Some research has shown that attendance in full-day (as opposed to part-day) kindergarten is linked to higher levels of early reading skills, although the impact may not last beyond kindergarten. Some studies also show a correlation between full-day kindergarten and improved math skills. Other research, however, suggests the impact of full-day kindergarten compared to part-day is minimal.

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