Kindergarten will be free "all day, every day" in the Forest Lake Area Schools next year following school board action earlier this month.
The district now offers kindergarten all day, every other day, but also makes an every-day program available for a fee, district spokesman Ross Bennett said.
In 2012-13, the tuition-based program costs families $2,800, but if a student qualifies for reduced-priced lunches, the annual fee is $1,700. The cost drops to $550 if the student qualifies for free lunches.
Making all-day, every-day kindergarten free to all families is expected to cost the district about $500,000 per year, Superintendent Linda Madsen said in a news release.
"Certainly there is a cost involved, and it's not insignificant," she said. "But we strongly believe that this is a very high-value program and that the benefits are well worth the cost."
In November, St. Paul voters renewed a levy that funded full-day kindergarten. District officials said then that students who participated in the full-day program had performed more than 4 percentage points higher on third-grade reading and math tests than classmates who did not attend kindergarten in the district.
Forest Lake officials also note that all-day, every-day kindergarten helps students develop social skills.
Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed funding full-day kindergarten for low-income students statewide, but he could not win legislative support.
A similar proposal, if passed by the Legislature next year, could offset Forest Lake's future costs. Madsen said that would be "great," but that with Forest Lake's program set to go, she didn't want to make families wait.
"This is too important to too many of our incoming students," Madsen said.
Anthony Lonetree 651-925-5036