For many of us, kindergarten is the first experience we have with being in a formal learning environment. It is where we learn to interact with peers, where we learn the foundations of math and reading, and where our love of learning starts. I have seen firsthand the benefits of kindergarten, but in Idaho, too many children are not afforded the same opportunities because of where they live or their financial situation. I am heartened to hear that some of our leaders are finally working to provide all Idaho children with the ability to take part in full-day kindergarten programs.
Idaho has provided funding for half-day kindergarten since 1975 and since then, many school districts understanding its value, have been able to provide full-day programs through various funding mechanisms including local levies, federal programs, or by charging tuition to parents. This patchwork approach has helped to increase the availability of full-day programs, but many children are still left out. Many full-day programs are funded by charging tuition that many families simply cannot afford. Many school districts are unable to provide their students the options for full-day kindergarten. Every child in Idaho should have the same ability to gain the benefits provided by a full-day kindergarten program regardless of their zip code or ability to pay.
In the American Falls School District, we fund our full-day program through a portion of our local supplemental levy. Having dedicated, consistent state funding for our full-day program would allow our district to consider other needs and allow us to lower our supplemental levy.
The most obvious and convincing reason in my mind for offering all children the opportunity to take part in full-day kindergarten programs are the academic benefits they will receive. We have found children attending full-day programs show significantly stronger reading and math gains over the course of the kindergarten year than when we were only able to offer a half-day program. This is especially true for our students with disabilities, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. Full-day kindergarten also allows us to start our Dual-Language Immersion Program in kindergarten.
There are several approaches to expanding access to full-day programs being discussed right now. I urge those working in the State Capitol to use this opportunity and act to finally provide all Idaho students with the strong start they deserve by providing full-day kindergarten and affording them every opportunity to succeed.