By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS – All-day kindergarten may occur at the expense of reducing class sizes in many jurisdictions throughout the state, according to a Maryland House subcommittee Friday.
Teacher salaries and benefits would cost $49 million with 25 pupils per class and $82 million with 15 pupils per class, according to figures from the Department of Legislative Services presented to the House Child and Youth Subcommittee.
In late August, Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, introduced a program to phase-in all-day kindergarten statewide starting next year. But without the proper funding, local jurisdictions would bear much of the cost of providing classroom space and teachers.
Educators agree that smaller class sizes, with 15 students per class as the target, provide a better, more effective learning environment.
But the question is whether classes of 25 students are better than no classes at all, said Delegate Paul H. Carlson, D-Montgomery.
This year, Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park reduced class sizes in its all-day kindergarten program and has seen significant results.
“It is important that we provide information to (local jurisdictions about the cost). Many schools are at structural capacity. It is a question of whose responsibility it is,” said Delegate David D. Rudolph, D-Cecil.
The upcoming legislative session will probably have a bill that will initiate a plan to fund all-day kindergarten, he said. But the question is how much of the burden will fall on local jurisdictions.
Before Grasmick’s all-day kindergarten proposal, there was House Bill 1003, which was legislation for all-day kindergarten. The bill failed with an unfavorable committee report, Rudolph said.
“I totally supported the concept of furthering early education. I fully expect there will be legislation introduced next session,” he said.
At the beginning of the year, 30 percent of elementary schools statewide offered all-day kindergarten. Caroline, Allegany and Garrett counties have mandated all-day programs.
Other jurisdictions including Prince George’s County adopted countywide programs this year that were funded locally.
“At-risk children need (all-day kindergarten) more,” said Robin Mathias, principal of Rolling Terrace. “It should be targeted at high-risk children.”
The subcommittee heard a briefing on the importance of all-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs from a panel of Mathias and Joan Colbe from Rolling Terrace and Ray Bryant and Judie Muntner from Montgomery County Public Schools.
Montgomery County only has all-day kindergarten in select classrooms. Rolling Terrace has had all-day kindergarten for 17 years. But having 15 students per class has improved the program.
“It is a tremendous difference. Children are dealing with the academics of reading and writing and math. Children are choosing to go and write during class,” said Colbe.
Objections to all-day kindergarten have come from parents who do not believe their children are ready for an all-day program.
“The main problem is the age of entrance. Kids cannot be 4 and a half- years-old and entering kindergarten,” said Wanda Hurt, from the Maryland Parent- Teachers Association. “We supported the (House bill last year) if the funding was there and not on the locals.”