In Katie Harris’s kindergarten class at Borah Elementary, kids learn colors, shapes and numbers. They also learn to identify pronouns and sentence structure. The Coeur d’Alene teacher for more than a decade is teaching 5 year olds to read.
Borah is one of four elementary schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District that offers full-day kindergarten, a priority in this North Idaho community. According to Harris, 2 hours and 45 minutes of daily kindergarten class time isn’t enough.
“Kids get the opportunity to learn the curriculum, to learn to socialize and how to use their imaginations when it’s all day,” Harris said. “We are pressed for time. Full-time kindergarten is so beneficial.”
Idaho, which funds half-day kindergarten, is one of only six states nationwide that doesn’t require districts to offer kindergarten. This stands in contrast to 11 states and Washington, D.C., which require public schools to provide free, full-day kindergarten. Many states have recently adopted measures to fund all-day kindergarten, including neighboring Washington, which currently funds 71 percent of its kindergartens but plans to fund all kindergartens next year. The Coeur d’Alene School District, Post Falls School District and Lakeland School District all offer kindergarten programs that last at least half the day.
Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra supports local control rather than requiring a full day of kindergarten.
In a recent statement Ybarra said: “The early years lay the foundation for learning. As the State’s educational leader, it is my goal to offer the best possible opportunities for children. This effort must remain optional. Over 40 districts and charter schools across the state already take the opportunity to operate a full day kindergarten either as an intervention service or as a choice to parents. In the spirit of local control this should remain optional and is a decision best made by local districts and their communities.”
Currently, most Idaho districts only offer full-time kindergarten to students who show signs of needing extra help to ensure they are prepared for first grade. While not funded directly by the state, local district leaders can choose to divert funding to all-day kindergarten programs.
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“Assuming that if this were mandated that the state would also fund it, it would benefit our district as we would be able to divert the local funding that we currently use to fund all-day to other purposes to help our students,” Coeur d’Alene School District Matt Handelman said.
If Idaho made full-time kindergarten mandatory, some districts like the Lakeland School District in Rathdrum would scramble to find staff and space to accommodate additional students.
“I would be in favor of full-time kindergarten for the academic readiness it provides against the achievement gaps,” Lakeland Superintendent Brad Murray said. “Leaving how it is implemented to the districts is paramount.
“As long as it’s fully funded we won’t have a problem. If the funding doesn’t follow it certainly we won’t be able to do a full day.”