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Schools ponder future funding for full-day K

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Local schools want kindergartners to continue to attend school for a full day without charging parents for tuition, but first they need to know how much taxpayer money state legislators will give them to pay for the classes.

Indiana schools receive tax dollars to pay for employees’ salaries and benefits based on the number of students enrolled, but schools receive half as much for kindergarteners as they do for students in Grades 1-12. Early this year, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced the state was increasing funding for full-day kindergarten programs with an additional $2,400 per student.

The nearly $190 million Indiana now provides schools isn’t enough to cover the complete cost of full-day kindergarten at all school districts, but four local school districts either started full-day programs or stopped charging parents for the first time.

For example, the Clark-Pleasant school district was short nearly $135,000 needed to provide full-day kindergarten for this year’s 491 kindergartners, business and finance director Steve Sonntag said. But because Clark-Pleasant wanted to provide a free full-day program, which it had never done before, it covered the shortfall with the tax money it already received for its first- through 12th-grade students, Sonntag said.

The increase in kindergarten money was enough for Greenwood schools to be able to provide full-day kindergarten classes at all four elementary schools for the first time. And Center Grove and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school districts dropped the full-day fees they’d been charging parents, which were $1,827 and $450, respectively.

A total of 1,834 kindergartners enrolled in area public schools for the start of the year, and for the first time they were all in full-day programs that didn’t come with an added cost for parents.

But as administrators and teachers plan their kindergarten programs for the 2013-2014 school year, they don’t know how much taxpayer money they’ll receive for full-day programs.

Early next year, the General Assembly will work with incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence to determine whether schools will receive more or less money for full-day programs, Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Katie Stephens said. The legislative session will start Jan. 7, and legislators will draft and approve a two-year budget and other legislation.

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said Pence plans to focus on jobs and education during his term and wants to work with legislators to determine funding that leads to success in both areas.

If the new full-day K funds headed to school districts are instead trimmed back, then Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood would have to review whether they could continue to pay for full-day kindergarten programs at all of their schools, Sonntag and Greenwood Superintendent David Edds said. But if all of that new funding is eliminated, Clark-Pleasant would have to consider going back to a half-day program, Sonntag said.

“I think we need to congratulate legislators for taking this step, but now they need to take the next step and fund it fully,” Sonntag said.

Edds said it’s essential for kindergartners to spend a full day in class because it gives teachers more time to teach fundamental lessons, and that helps students become better learners as they

get older.

Greenwood plans to continue to offer no-tuition full-day programs at all four elementary schools next year, but Edds is prepared for any last-minute changes in funding.

“We get these curve balls thrown at us every once in a while,” he said.

If full-day kindergarten funding dropped significantly or disappeared, then Greenwood would have to see how much funding it receives for students from low- and middle-income families before deciding what kind of kindergarten programs it could offer, Edds said.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said the school district also planned to continue offering a free full-day kindergarten program next year. But until schools know how much to expect from the state, it’s difficult to know with certainty whether that’s possible, he said.

“Really we’re in a wait-and-see pattern, so we’ll wait and see,”

he said.

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