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The full-day kindergarten quandry
Rarely does a public institution hedge at the idea of getting more funding from state or federal sources.
But that may be the position for school districts — including Sequim — if Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators make a priority of providing full-day kindergarten across Washington.
In 2013, Sequim was among several other school districts to decline state funding for full-day kindergarten based on a number of reasons, most glaringly the fact that it would provide funds only for Helen Haller Elementary School. Haller, one of Sequim’s two elementary schools, qualified for funding based on the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches (55.7 percent), but Greywolf Elementary School would not qualify, based on its 48.6 percent of students receiving free and reduced-fee meals.
“Our biggest concern is it would create transfer issues,” Sequim schools superintendent Kelly Shea said then.
In addition, Sequim’s school leaders received notice that Helen Haller would qualify just six weeks from the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Coming into the 2014 legislative session, it looked as if Inslee wasn’t interested in allocating more funds toward full-day kindergarten, Shea said. But Inslee may have changed his mind: His proposal to boost K-12 funding by $200 million, including cost-of-living increases for teachers, came as a surprise. Previously, Inslee said the state should wait until 2015 to address significant changes to education funding.
State legislators may instead push for school districts to offer full-day kindergarten before the state’s own 2017-2018 deadline. (State schools are supposed to offer full-day funding for every school in the state by then; now it’s getting there by increments, offering funding first to schools with a higher number of students that quality for free and reduced lunches.)
That puts Sequim in a tight spot once again, Shea said, as it did in 2013. Sequim’s school board of directors, Shea said, would be put in the position of either rejecting state money for a second time or accepting those funds — but having to find funding in their own budget for staffing those classes and likely buy at least three, $100,000 portables and classroom furniture.
As is, Shea noted, Sequim’s elementary school classrooms are all full.
“I do think it (full-day kindergarten) would be tough to pass up for a second time,” Sequim school board member Sarah Bedinger said at an early January school board meeting.
Bedinger and fellow board member Michael Howe both said they support a full-day kindergarten program in Sequim, but Bedinger qualified her response by saying the state should fully fund it.
Shea said the district would likely have to put off other projects to meet the changes required by adding the full-day kindergarten program.
The district also would have to provide parents a survey to determine how many would be interested in the program — full- and half-day kindergarten would be offered, but neither made mandatory — and provide training for staffers teaching those full-day classes. Bus schedules would need to be revised as well, Shea noted.
If offered in Sequim, Shea said, they’d likely move elementary school programs and older students (fifth-graders) into the portables, and move full-day kindergarten students into regular classrooms.
Sequim school leaders anticipated 160 kindergarten students this fall. Instead, about 190 showed up on the first day.
A teacher’s perspective
Stephanie Grotzke-Nash, a teacher at Helen Haller Elementary, is one of several staffers on a committee considering costs, available space and other issues for Sequim schools tom implement full-day kindergarten.
She said projections indicate an enrollment boom for Sequim kindergarten classes in coming years.
Grotzke-Nash said a full-day kindergarten program would be welcome in Sequim.
“I’m asked about it constantly,” she said. “State standards have changed — there are more things kindergartners are required to know. (This would) give students time to practice, more art and science.
There’s so much pressure to integrate it all in a short time. People are surprised how much kindergartners know these days. Kindergarten has kind of become the new first grade.”
(Note: Grotzke-Nash is wife of Sequim Gazette reporter Matthew Nash.)