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Education Reporter

State Legislators Debate Funding for Preschool and Full-Day Kindergarten

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In 2006, 31 states increased funding for preschool programs. Nine states reviewed legislation to lower the age of mandatory school attendance, although only South Dakota actually did so. So far in 2007, at least 40 state legislatures have considered preschool programs and full-day kindergarten initiatives.

Numbers in Nevada

Carson City has seen vigorous, partisan debate over full-day kindergarten. The state offers full-day kindergarten at some schools in low-income areas, and many Democrats would like to make the full-day program universal. Most Nevada Republicans oppose the idea.

The Clark County School District released a study in February that compared 2nd-graders' reading test scores based on whether they had attended half-day or full-day kindergarten. Advocates of full-day programs quickly pointed out that low-income students who had attended full-day kindergarten tested about eight points higher than those who had only attended half-day, as did full-day students who were not native English speakers. Overall, the former full-day kindergartners tested three points higher.

State Sen. Bob Beers (R-Las Vegas) responded with a press release calling attention to an opposite trend among students who were not "at risk." Among students who did not receive free or reduced lunch, full-day kindergarteners scored three points below their half-day counterparts. "There's too much emphasis on public relations and spin," said Beers. "They've always attempted to mislead the Legislature, but this is the first time they've done it with hard numbers that we forced them to give us."

Issues in Idaho

The Idaho Senate passed a bill in March to lower the (non-mandatory) school age from five to four. The new law would allow four-year-olds to attend preschool in Idaho public schools, but would not allow the use of state funds for the programs. The bill has still to clear the House.

Idaho rejected legislation to distribute federal money to daycare providers and to establish regulations for small daycare providers.

The Idaho House also voted, 48-19, for a nonbinding resolution affirming that "the primary responsibility to see that children are trained, educated, and prepared for life rests squarely upon the shoulders of the parents who brought them into this world," and that the state should not usurp this responsibility and authority by taking over the education of children under five years of age.

The resolution also proposed that state education officials should take steps to "promote and advance the knowledge base of parents that helps them to communicate and interact positively with their children," instead of offering state-funded preschool programs.

Proponents of preschool programs, however, countered that the resolution denigrated the parenting of those who cannot stay home with their children for financial reasons.

Opinions in Other States

Legislators in Connecticut, Indiana, and Rhode Island proposed bills in 2007 to require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten.

At least eight other states have considered reimbursing schools that offer voluntary full-day kindergarten. Mississippi, North Dakota and Utah have all considered bills that would encourage state-funded preschool.

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