Free, full-day kindergarten set for Vancouver Public Schools

School board 'thrilled' to extend program throughout district

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Learn which elementary school your kindergartner will attend using this interactive Vancouver Public Schools map.

Vancouver Public Schools will bring free, all-day kindergarten to all its schools starting this fall.

"From the board's perspective, we're thrilled," said Kathy Gillespie, president of the school board. Multiple studies indicate that kids who attend full-day kindergarten learn more.

Evergreen Public Schools already offered free, full-day kindergarten at all of its elementary schools. Vancouver Public Schools made the decision to extend tuition-free, full-day kindergarten to all its elementary schools after seeing the state's consensus budget.

"The consensus budget increased the number of schools that offered state-funded, full-day kindergarten to 43.75 percent of schools statewide," said Steve Webb, the district's superintendent. "It was significant enough that it caused our leadership team and the board to examine how we might support the rest of our elementary schools to offer full-day kindergarten system wide."

The state funding is tied to poverty levels in elementary schools, but Webb said the state's consensus budget also "made a down payment on McCleary," referring to the 2012 Washington Supreme Court decision mandating lawmakers to fully fund basic education, including full-day kindergarten, by 2018.

"We received additional resources as a result of the state responding to McCleary," Webb said. "That freed up local resources to add full-day kindergarten at the remaining schools."

Local levy resources of about $1.6 million will pay for teaching staff, materials and portable classrooms to extended full-day kindergarten to all the district's elementary schools, Webb said.

This summer district officials will purchase portable classrooms, hire more kindergarten teachers and purchase teaching materials.

In the 2012-13 school year that ended on June 18, the district offered free full-day kindergarten programs at only six of the district's schools with high poverty rates, as determined by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals: Fruit Valley, Harney, Martin Luther King, Peter S. Ogden, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools. These programs were funded by the state, which began paying for full-day kindergarten in the poorest schools in 2007.

Additionally in the 2012-13 school year, Vancouver offered full-day kindergarten at four schools with tuition-based programs at schools serving the most affluent population. In those programs, parents could pay $2,900 a year. Full-day kindergarten wasn't offered at the remaining 11 district elementary schools.

If families missed the opportunity to register their child in the spring, they can complete kindergarten registration at their neighborhood elementary school beginning Aug. 19. Parents must present proof of their child's birth date (birth certificate or signed hospital certificate) and immunization records.To begin kindergarten in the fall, children must be 5 years old by Aug. 31.

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