More literacy funding leads to more kindergarten

Hundreds of children in the Treasure Valley will have free access to all-day kindergarten next year, as Vallivue, Nampa and Caldwell school districts transition to full-day, tuition-free kinder.

Officials in all three districts say the move was funded, to some degree, by expanded literacy funds provided by the state government this legislative session, one of first-year Gov. Brad Little’s top priorities.

The Legislature agreed to double the amount Idaho gives to K-3 literacy programs, to $26 million. Schools get money according to the number of students in early grades who are determined to be less than proficient readers, according to state tests.

Double the funds means double the access to full-day kindergarten in Caldwell. Superintendent Shalene French said the district has previously used state literacy funds to pay for full-day kindergarten in two elementary schools, and to about 70 percent of students at a third.

The new funds mean that full-day kindergarten will be available at all of the district’s six elementary schools starting in the fall of 2019.

“We have focused a lot on kindergarten because it’s such a springboard to the rest of the early grades and on,” French said.

Nampa estimates it will enroll some 950 students in free full-day kindergarten next year.

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This year, 78 students are enrolled in full-time kindergarten in Nampa, either because they pay tuition or receive need-based aid from the federal government. For all other kindergartners in Nampa, full-day classes are only offered every other day.

“We believe full-time kindergarten is the best way to prepare our students for learning in first grade and have been looking for a way to offer this to all of our students,” district spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said in an email.

Vallivue is making the move, too.

In a news release, the district pointed to research that shows full-time kindergarteners have stronger reading and math outcomes than half-time students. A report by the Education Commission of the States said that students who attend full-day kindergarten score some 13 percent higher in reading, and 10 percent higher in math, compared to students in half-day kindergarten.

“Kindergarten standards are written for all day, everyday kindergarten, and full-time kinder will allow us to teach all the standards we are accountable for,” Vallivue Director of Instruction and Assessment Cindy Johnstone said in the district announcement.

The expansion will also bring more than a dozen teaching jobs to the valley. Caldwell plans to hire six to 10 new teachers, French said, and Tuck said Nampa will hire 12 new kindergarten teachers.

Other districts in the valley are using the funds elsewhere. In Homedale, superintendent Rob Sauer said he anticipates the district will get $128,000 in K-3 literacy funds from the state for next year. Sauer said the district will use those funds to update the curriculum. The district might consider expanding to full-day kinder in the future, he said.

Idaho does not require children to attend kindergarten, or even require districts to provide kindergarten. However, state data shows that every Idaho school district with an elementary program does offer kindergarten to some degree.

More reading: The Coeur d’Alene School District also has expanded its early-learning programs.

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