Free full-time kindergarten in FF?Published 11:03am Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Many parents of Fergus Falls pre-schoolers are likely to see a tidy savings when they send their children to all-day, every-day kindergarten next fall.
On Monday, the School Board discussed waiving the fee for all-day, every-day kindergarten, and will consider the motion Feb. 25. The fee is $195 per month, $75 per month for those students who qualify for reduced price meals, and free to those who qualify for free lunch.
The fees generate about $75,000 annually, according to Superintendent Jerry Ness.
School board members said the decision to waive the fees was prompted in part by the fact that 218 children who live within the Fergus Falls School District boundaries attend Underwood School, and 51 attend Rothsay School District, and many others attend local private schools.
“We want to provide a great opportunity in kindergarten so students want to stay in Fergus Falls throughout their school careers,” School board member Tarma Carlson said.
Responding to concerns from elementary principal Scott Colbeck about whether the lost revenue would result in cuts elsewhere, School Board member Matt Lemke pointed out that the Legislature will be considering funding all-day, every-day kindergarten, at least for those who qualify for free and reduced lunch. “We believe the Legislature will put some money into all-day kindergarten,” Lemke said.
The board will likely continue to offer part-time kindergarten options for parents, including the Monday-Wednesday-Friday option and mornings only. Parents who choose mornings only, however, would be responsible for picking their child up at noon.
A district survey of 85 parents of pre-school children showed that 73 would send their children to all-day, every-day kindergarten, 10 would choose the Monday-Wednesday-Friday option, and two were undecided between Monday-Wednesday-Friday and mornings only.
“Cost is not the only factor for parents (in choosing a kindergarten option),” Fergus Falls elementary school principal Scott Colbeck said. “You’d be surprised by how many would choose other options.”
Students are not required by state law to attend school until age 7.
Colbeck was concerned about how the district’s eight kindergarten teachers would be staffed to handle children who choose part-time options. Ness said all of the issues aren’t likely to be worked out until parents actually enroll students next August.
A committee made up of two school board members and the eight kindergarten teachers will meet prior to Feb. 25 to get input from teachers regarding the proposed change.
Ness said he felt getting more children to attend all-day, every-day kindergarten would mean fewer children would require help in the form of special education and Title I assistance in later grades. “I truly believe we will have less cost down the road because more students were enrolled in all-day, every-day kindergarten.”
Colbeck said the fee waiver will not mean substantial changes to the current all-day, every-day kindergarten curriculum. “I think the same amount of material will be covered whether parents are paying or not,” he said.