The good news is, Michigan “encourages” local school districts to offer all-day kindergarten. The bad news is school districts will lose money if they do or if they don’t.
Last year, the Michigan legislature, with Governor Rick Snyder’s approval, passed a measure that will continue to fully fund kindergarten for those school districts that offer it as a full day, rather than a half day as it is now. School districts that don’t will only receive half of the state’s grant for each child that participates in half day kindergarten.
Expanding the amount of time that students are in the classroom is a great idea. They will be much better prepared for first grade and the rest of elementary school. The trouble is that school districts will lose money no matter what they do. If they opt to expand kindergarten to full day, there will be the extra expenses of more classrooms, more teachers and all the other things that go along with children in school longer. But, the districts will continue to receive only the current funding levels. If the districts don’t expand to full day, they will only receive half of the current funding, so they lose money.
The Berkley school district, as reported in local newspapers, might be an example. It will cost the district $700,000 more to add full day. But, they won’t receive any additional money to cover the costs. If they don’t and save the money, the school aid to the district will drop by a million dollars.
Kindergarten should be expanded to a full day. There is no reason to keep it at a half day. It will be a better use of the resources and better prepare the children for elementary. But, the way the legislature did it was foolish and doesn’t recognize the issues on the local level. First, the school aid budget was already chopped by about $470 on average for each child. This means districts are already fighting rising costs and lower funding. This is not a naive complaint that doesn’t realize that tax revenues are down because of the economy. But, the school aid budget had a surplus that equaled about $430 per child, the Governor borrowed money to balance the budget. This could have made a big difference to school districts.
More importantly, there is a gap between what the political rhetoric is and what we are willing to pay. If education is such a high priority in the state, (as it should be) why aren’t we willing to properly fund the budget? We have made cuts in the amount of taxes that businesses pay without seeking new sources of income to make up for the loss. Then, to balance the budget, the state takes a surplus the state has in the school aid fund to make up the difference.
Education is the second most important function of a community, just behind law enforcement. Let’s fund it properly.