Twice as many kids in state-paid, full-day kindergarten this fall

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SEATTLE — Thanks to pressure from a successful school funding lawsuit against Washington state, and a $50 million investment by the state Legislature, twice as many children will be in state-paid full-day kindergarten this fall.

The change affects kids in 269 schools in 38 of the state’s 39 counties. The new money is being distributed according to poverty rates, so schools with the most kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are the first to get money for free all-day kindergarten.

With the money aimed at specific schools, only some of the students in most districts will benefit from the new state dollars. But some districts are also using local dollars to expand free, full-day kindergarten for all kids.

Other districts have gone in the opposite direction — turning away the state money because they don’t have enough room for more classes or the money to buy portable classrooms.

In fall 2012, 22 percent of the state’s kindergarteners were in all-day sessions paid for by the state of Washington. This fall, 44 percent will get the extra schooling without having to pay tuition. The Legislature will need to find another $100 million or so by fall 2017 to get every kindergartener in free all-day school.

Washington adopted the goal of full-day kindergarten for all in 2006, but six years later the Washington Supreme Court gave lawmakers a push toward fulfilling that promise by giving them a deadline.

Kindergarten is just one of the reforms pinpointed in the Supreme Court’s January 2012 McCleary decision. The result of the lawsuit brought by school districts, teachers, parents and community groups also calls for smaller class sizes in early grades, state-funded pupil transportation, a stable source of school dollars from the state, and less reliance on local levies to pay the costs of basic education.

Vancouver Public Schools was happy to get more state money to support its focus on early education.

Vancouver has 21 elementary schools. Fourteen will have state-funded full-day kindergarten classes this year, and the rest will be paid for by local dollars. That’s more than triple the full-day kindergarten classrooms offered last fall.

“Families are thrilled,” said Marianne Thompson, executive director of teaching and learning for the district’s elementary grades.

All-day kindergarten helps cement early literacy skills and helps every kid make the progress needed to reach state benchmarks for literacy and math by third grade, Thompson said.

“Time is the variable,” between kids who make the expected academic progress and those who don’t, Thompson said. The district has adopted another program to boost kindergarten seat time — a boot camp for eligible kids for up to 17 days before school begins.

The program started last year with a third of kindergarteners. This year every student will be invited to get some school exposure before kindergarten begins.

For two and a half hours a day, students take a break from summer and learn the rules of school while working on vocabulary, letter and sound recognition, and math concepts.

Thompson said both programs help level the playing field for kids who have not had an educational preschool experience, which Thompson describes as the difference between a vocabulary of about 3,000 words and a vocabulary of 20,000 words.

Because of overcrowding, the Mukilteo School District, just southwest of Everett, was forced to take a different approach this fall.

Mukilteo turned down state money because the district didn’t have the room for more classes and instead is exploring the possibility of a bond election to pay for construction of more elementary classrooms.

District spokesman Andy Muntz said growing enrollment plus full-day kindergarten and the state goal of reduced class sizes in the early grades would require Mukilteo to add an estimated 85 more classrooms, or about three and a half new schools.

Muntz doubts that voters would support that much new construction.

“That just won’t happen,” he said. “Meanwhile our enrollment will keep growing.”

Kindergarten in Clark County school districts

Here's an updated list of which public schools in all 10 Clark County districts will offer full-day kindergarten in the fall.

• Battle Ground

The district has expanded tuition-based, full-day kindergarten to four of its six elementary schools: Pleasant Valley, Tukes Valley, Captain Strong and Maple Grove School. All six elementary schools in the district offer free half-day kindergarten classes.

Full-day tuition is $2,900 for the year, spread over 10 payments of $290 per month. Some students will be supported with grant funding.

District office: 360-885-5300.

Web: http://www.battlegroundps.org

• Camas

Currently offers half-day kindergarten with some additional early learning assistance for kindergartners. The district did not receive additional funding to add full-day kindergarten because its serves fewer students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals than most Clark County districts, said Donna Gregg, director of business services.

District office: 360-335-3000.

Web: http://www.camas.wednet.edu

• Evergreen

Evergreen Public Schools already offered free, full-day kindergarten at all elementary schools and will continue to do so.

District office: 360-604-4000.

Web: http://www.evergreenps.org

• Green Mountain

The small rural district will continue offering three full days of kindergarten for approximately 22 kindergartners for the 2013-2014 school year, said Joe Jones, superintendent.

District office: 360-225-7366.

Web: http://www.greenmountainschool.us

• Hockinson

The Hockinson School District will offer a choice of full-time or part-time kindergarten in the fall. The decision was made though the district doesn't expect to receive designated state funding for full-day kindergarten for several years.

District office: 360-448-6400.

Web: http://www.hock.k12.wa.us

• La Center

La Center's kindergarten program is four full days, Monday through Thursday, said Scott Lincoln, principal at La Center Elementary School.

District office: 360-263-2131.

Web: http://www.lacenterschools.org

• Ridgefield

The district offers all-day kindergarten every other day, plus one program of all-day kindergarten every day for students who need extra help.

District office: 360-619-1300.

Web: http://www.ridge.k12.wa.us

• Vancouver

The second-largest district in Clark County is implementing full-day, tuition-free kindergarten in all of its 21 elementary schools beginning fall 2013, said Steven Webb, superintendent.

District office: 360-313-1000.

Web: http://www.vansd.org

• Washougal

Washougal School District will offer tuition-free, full-day kindergarten at Hathaway Elementary School in the fall, thanks to money in the recent state budget earmarked for schools with higher percentages of students who qualify for free/reduced meals. The district's two other elementary schools, Cape Horn-Skye and Gause, did not receive funding to add full-day kindergarten.

District office: 360-954-3000.

Web: http://www.washougal.k12.wa.us

• Woodland

The Woodland School District will have free, all-day kindergarten five days per week at Yale Elementary and Woodland Primary schools beginning this fall, said Michael Green, superintendent.

District office: 360-841-2700.

Web: http://www.woodlandschools.org

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com