ANNAPOLIS – A school reform mandate for statewide full-day kindergarten is breaking the financial backs of some school districts and should be discretionary, say nine Maryland Senate sponsors of a bill to ease the order.
The $1.3 billion Thornton reform plan does not provide funds for capital projects, and full-day kindergarten would force some school systems to build dozens of classrooms by the 2007-2008 school year to accommodate the new students, said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The bill, introduced last week, would not revoke any Thornton funds, which increase yearly until 2008.
Local school boards are worried more about making room for their growing elementary and secondary student populations than creating space for an influx of young learners, said Dyson, who also represents Calvert and Charles counties.
“There just isn’t the kind of money to build all these classrooms,” he said.
Calvert County school officials, Dyson said, estimate they will need 22 more classes at a projected cost of $5 million to meet the full-day kindergarten requirement.
He said his bill, which has another Democrat and seven Republican cosponsors, is not about the merits of full-day kindergarten, but reflects local school systems’ need for capital improvement support.
Alvin Thornton, the Howard University administrator who led the commission that made the full-day kindergarten recommendation, disagreed.
“The fact that you don’t have the money is not the crisis,” he said.
Full-day kindergarten is a necessary preparation for elementary and high school assessments, Thornton said, and if some counties did not offer it to all students, they would not be doing their part to create the equity among school districts that was the goal of the Thornton plan.
If a school system declined to offer full-day kindergarten to all students, the state should lower the pass rate for third-grade assessments for those students, Thornton said.
“It undermines an essential component of the ability of school boards, districts and schools to prepare children early across the board in a uniform way,” he said.
At least one county school system said a decision affecting its children should be left to local control.
Calvert County Superintendent of Schools J. Kenneth Horsmon said his system of 17,500 students offers one section of extended-day kindergarten in all elementary schools. Students in that program are invited to join based on socioeconomic factors and academic screening, Horsmon said.
Despite their objections, Calvert County officials still plan to meet the full-day kindergarten requirement by the 2007-2008 school year. The county Board of Education is discussing its “philosophical position” on full-day kindergarten, Horsmon said, and will make a determination soon.
A spokesman for State Department of Education, however, said the advantages of full-day kindergarten are obvious, and more than half of all Maryland schools already have it.
“The state has always supported full-day kindergarten,” said Bill Reinhard. “The educational benefits of children of all backgrounds is clear.”