School trustees call for full-day kindergarten funding

School trustees passed a new resolution Friday calling on the Idaho Legislature to pay for full-day kindergarten.

The vote came during the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual conference in Boise.

If the plan is passed into law, it would represent a significant change in how Idaho addresses early childhood education. Currently, the state pays school districts for half-day kindergarten.

In Idaho, kindergarten is also optional, and would remain optional even if funding mechanisms change.

Trustees from the West Bonner County and Genesee school districts brought the resolution forward and won support from their peers during the ISBA convention.

Genesee trustee Susan Rig advocated for passage of the resolution, arguing that dozens of Idaho school districts already offer some sort of full-day kindergarten program.

“If this does not pass, districts will likely continue to pay the additional cost through override levies or at the expense of other programs or services,” Rig said.

Coeur d’Alene trustee Tom Hearn also advocated for funding full-day kindergarten — even if it won’t be easy to convince the Legislature to make the move. ISBA officials estimate it will cost $52 million in the 2021 budget year to fully fund kindergarten.

“This legislation might make a few legislators uncomfortable because of the increase in funding,” Hearn said. “As far as I am concerned, that’s our job to make them uncomfortable. Our job is to advocate for what our children need, and what our children need is full-day kindergarten.”

The measure passed 5,539-2,980 under the ISBA’s weighted voting rules. But even passing it through ISBA was slightly awkward. Before the vote, the ISBA’s executive board recommended trustees do not pass the kindergarten funding resolution. For the past several legislative sessions, ISBA leaders have said they will not support initiatives that require new budget funding “line items” until the Legislature fully funds teacher salaries under the career ladder and restores districts’ discretionary funding levels to pre-recession levels, with inflation factored in.

Nevertheless, the resolution passed and ISBA officials will lobby for kindergarten funding, or support bills to fund all-day kindergarten, during the next two legislative sessions.

In their resolution, supporters of funding full-day kindergarten wrote, “The funding of kindergarten at the same rate as all other elementary students would allow districts and charters more flexibility in bridging the gaps seen in early childhood literacy.”

For years, early childhood advocates have failed to convince the Legislature to approve state funding for preschool. Pushing for full kindergarten funding may represent a change of strategy.

During this year’s state superintendent election campaign, unsuccessful Democratic candidate Cindy Wilson made full-day kindergarten the centerpiece of her early childhood education platform.

In a separate vote, trustees also passed a measure to amend state law to allow school districts to use their existing funding levels to offer kindergarten preparation programs to 4-year-olds.

ISBA members only voted down one resolution Friday, a proposal from the West Ada School District to have the state pick up half the tab for locally-approved school bond issues. All other proposals either passed or were pulled from the agenda before a vote.

How trustees votes on ISBA resolutions, at a glance

(More information about each resolution is available on the ISBA’s website)

  • Increasing classified staff salaries: Pass
  • Reduce supermajority requirement on facility bonds: Pass
  • Executive session, lower threshold to enter to a simple majority in case of board member vacancies: Pass
  • Fully funded all-day kindergarten: Pass
  • Opposition to public funds diverted to private schools: Pass
  • Amending school age for flexibility: Pass
  • School construction and property tax relief: Fail
  • Transportation funding: Pulled
  • Charter school renewal recourse: Pass
  • Strategic plan reporting: Pass
  • Threats on school grounds: Pass

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