Our View: Kindergarten cut a poor plan | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Kindergarten cut a poor plan

The Steamboat Springs School District plans on dropping its all-day kindergarten program only a year after instituting it, and to say we were disappointed by this development would be an understatement.

The news came Wednesday, when the school board asked the Education Fund to remove an earlier request for all-day kindergarten funding in favor of money for additional teachers.

It is oddly coincidental that Steamboat Today reported on this request almost a year to the day after we'd editorialized about the inception of the all-day kindergarten program and praised the district for bringing this vital piece of the early educational puzzle to all the district's youngsters, regardless of financial means.

Under the change, the district would still offer half-day kindergarten — which is funded by the state — free, but would charge approximately $2,400 per year in tuition to upgrade to the full-day option.

In a letter requesting the amendment, SSSD Superintendent Brad Meeks cited a reduction in the Education Fund Board's allocation to the district, coupled with the district's need to balance its budget, as the reason for the change.

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"With this goal (balancing the budget) in mind, the district is requesting to amend its Feb. 1 application to remove the request for all-day kindergarten funding and move $324,700 of those funds in to the Academic Excellence request and the remaining $5,000 to the instructional guide/interventionist/data specialist for the NRCCS (North Routt Community Charter School)," Meeks wrote. "This will allow the district to collect tuition from the kindergarten parents to reduce the deficit that still exists in the general fund."

We do not pretend to be experts in school finance, and we understand — and concur with — the district's goal of operating in the black. Further, we understand that, in any budgeting process, priorities must be set, and concessions — often painful ones — must be made.

But at the same time, we cannot help thinking there must be better budget-trimming options than nixing an incalculably beneficial program that has only been in place a single year.

As we editorialized a year ago, educational professionals are almost universal in their agreement that kindergarten acts as an essential bridge between unstructured, early childhood learning and a more formal classroom setting. It is the place at which children acquire the basic skills of life — reading, writing, social interaction, self-discipline — and as such, it forms the foundation of all learning to follow.

Moreover, studies have shown that universal, full-day kindergarten can also help to narrow achievement gaps between children from minority and low-income families — who seem to benefit the most from a full-day program — and families of greater financial means.

This last piece concerns us the most.

While coming up with an extra $2,400 per year to pay for full-day kindergarten is nothing more than a minor bump in the road for many Steamboat families, for many others, it rises as an insurmountable obstacle, and it is sad irony, indeed, that this second group — families whose budgets are already stretched to the breaking point — includes the very children who stand to benefit most from all-day kindergarten.

Furthermore, using family wealth as a means of separating those who can attend all-day kindergarten from those who cannot might well be interpreted as saying the former group is somehow more worthy of this vital piece of the educational puzzle than the latter.

And from a non-educational standpoint, eliminating universal, all-day kindergarten will very likely place an even greater burden on our already-strained child care facilities as parents of kindergarten-aged children who cannot afford the tuition are forced to find other options.

We hope the school board will reexamine its budget — if not this year, then next — and find a way to continue offering this educational cornerstone to all the district's families, not only those who have the disposable income to pay for it.

In a very real way, kindergarten represents the beginning of the race, and if there's any place a level field is called for, it's at the starting line.

At issue

The Steamboat Springs School District plans to abandon its all-day kindergarten program next year.

Our view

Given the vital role of early childhood education, the district should explore other ways to make the needed cuts.