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December 11, 2012

Full-day kindergarten enrollment up 19 percent after state boosts dollars to local schools

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s decision to increase funding for full-day kindergarten has led to an increase in students enrolling in kindergarten programs across the state and more state dollars doled out to local schools.

On Friday, the state will distribute nearly $190 million in full-day kindergarten funding, more than double the $81 million spent last school year, according to numbers released Monday by the Indiana Department of Education.

The money is going to 338 public school corporations and charter schools that collectively saw a 19 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in full-day kindergarten programs: from 66,401 in the 2011-12 school year to 79,110 students this school year.

The increase in enrollment and funding is due to legislation pushed by Gov. Mitch Daniels that put more money into a state grant program that helps qualifying local schools pay for their full-day kindergarten programs.

The legislation boosted the amount to $2,400 per student, almost twice the amount that schools got the year before. It triggered some schools to expand their half-day programs into full-day kindergarten, and allowed other schools to offer a full-day program without having to charge extra tuition to parents.

Terry Spradlin, director for education policy at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education, called it “good news” for Indiana.

“It think this will be beneficial,” said Spradlin, a strong advocate of early childhood education.

The extra dollars are in addition to money that local schools already receive through the state’s school-funding formula. Combined, it will provide about $5,000 per kindergarten student, Spradlin said.

The legislation that increased dollars through the full-day kindergarten grant program only extends two years, but some lawmakers see it as indicator of growing support for education.

The additional dollars were only approved for this school year and next, but some lawmakers see a permanent shift taking place.

“The increase in funding is critical,” said state Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican who sits on the House Committee on Education. “But just as critical is the policy decision that the legislature made in identifying full-day kindergarten funding as a priority.”

“It was an important first step in the right direction, but it won’t be the last step,” Clere said. “I think there is growing support in the legislature to support early childhood education as one of the most important investments we can make.”

The full-day funding levels for schools was released Monday by the Indiana Department of Education. It’s based on enrollment numbers for this current school year.

Attending kindergarten isn’t mandatory in Indiana, but public schools in the state are required to offer some kind of kindergarten program to eligible students.

Some had opted for half-day programs or charged parents tuition for their children to attend a full-day program. In some communities, like Floyd County where Clere is from, local foundations stepped in to provide the extra dollars to the schools to support a full-day program.

“Access to full-day kindergarten was limited by financial means,” Clere said. “We’re finally moving past that.”

Education experts say full-day kindergarten programs give students, especially those from low-income families, a boost in their later academic success.

The legislation that doubled the dollars for full-day kindergarten guarantees $2,400 in state money for every child enrolled in a full-day kindergarten program. Schools were getting only about $1,200 per kindergarten student before the legislation passed.  

The legislature approved the temporary increase in kindergarten dollars for this school year. But in signing the legislation into law, Daniels said it signaled a shift in commitment from the legislature to spend more dollars on education.

“This is never going away, and the finances of the state clearly support it,” Daniels said at the time. “This is not inexpensive, but we think it’s the next best investment to make in education.”

Daniels had pushed the idea for more kindergarten funding earlier this year as state revenues were rebounding. This summer, he announced that Indiana ended the fiscal year with a $2 billion surplus.

Earlier this fall, Republican leaders in the Statehouse, who hold a super-majority in both the state House and Senate, said they were committed to spending more state dollars on early childhood education. In January, when the legislature goes back into session, lawmakers will be crafting a two-year budget bill that includes education spending.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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