As Minnesota schools complete plans to offer all-day kindergarten in 2014-15, several Washington County area districts are keeping their doors open to possible half-day options.
Two districts, South Washington County and the White Bear Lake area schools, already have decided to give families access to a half-day program — provided, at least in White Bear Lake's case, that parents supply the rides home from school.
Barbara Brown, spokeswoman for the South Washington County School District, noted last week that most kindergartners are just 5 years old, after all, and some parents prefer having them at home. South Washington County will give half-day participants a ride home with preschoolers, Brown said.
Last year, state DFL leaders touted the agreement to fund all-day kindergarten as a highlight of a legislative session dedicated to the youngest learners. The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton also increased funding for preschool scholarships.
In Washington County, indications are that parents strongly favor the all-day model.
Mark Larson, superintendent of the Mahtomedi public schools, said last week that of the 30 people who filled out a recent online survey designed to gauge interest in a half-day option, just one person checked "yes."
The district made clear it needed a minimum of 20 students to even offer a half-day program.
"So, it's not looking good for the 'yes' people," Larson said.
This school year, the White Bear Lake area schools began offering free all-day kindergarten at its eight elementary schools but also kept open a half-day option at four sites. About 7 percent of district families chose a half-day program, spokeswoman Marisa Vette said. Next year, half-day availability will be limited to three district schools.
The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District moved to all-day-only kindergarten eight years ago, and while it since has been forced to trim its total budget, it never considered stepping back to a less expensive half-day model. According to district data, 82.5 percent of third-graders who attended all-day kindergarten in the district were proficient in math in 2012, compared with 69 percent of students who did not attend kindergarten in the district.
All-day proponents also have noted that students who are in school for an entire day have greater access to specialists in art, music and physical education.
Like North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, the Stillwater schools also have an all-day-only kindergarten program.
This year, Mahtomedi offered both half-day and all-day kindergarten, and like South Washington County, required parents to pay thousands of dollars for the all-day option. Two-thirds of Mahtomedi kindergarten parents chose to pay for all-day kindergarten.
Next school year, the state, not parents, will provide the funding in the Mahtomedi district.
And by eliminating midday bus runs associated with a half-day program, the district also expects to save about $27,500 in transportation costs. But the academic benefits of the all-day model are what appeal to Larson.
"We are of the opinion that more school is better than less school," he said.