TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The Twin Falls School District will offer full-day, tuition-free kindergarten at all nine Twin Falls elementary schools starting in the fall of 2022, according to TFSD Director of Elementary Program Jennie Peterson.
The district already offers full-day kindergarten at five Twin Falls elementary schools, but the district wanted to expand the program sooner.
"It gives us more time, early literacy is always important," Peterson said. "Funding was our number one reason why we didn't move in that direction."
Half-day kindergarten will still be available for parents and families that prefer that option; however, the district is pushing their full-day option.
An option only made possible by new funding from the state.
Governor Brad Little signed house bill 790 into law at the end of the 2022 legislative session. The law expands the state's annual literacy budget from $26.1 million up to $72.7 million.
"It's a huge help, we're super excited about it. We've been hoping for it and crossing our fingers it did pass," Peterson said.
Local school districts can use their share of the money to fund programs aimed to help with kindergarten through 3rd-grade literacy rates. Twin Falls is joined by the largest school district in the state - West Ada - in expanding to full-day kindergarten.
"West Ada has been working to implement full-day Kindergarten at no cost to families, understanding the many benefits to our children. The recent passing of House Bill 790 enables West Ada to provide the opportunity for students to attend full-day Kindergarten at no cost to the family," West Ada spokesperson Niki Scheppers wrote KTVB in an email. "Full-day kindergarten will be implemented for everyone, there is no enrollment requirement or capacity [limits] for the program."
Scheppers also wrote that for West Ada families seeking a part-time or early-release option for Kindergarten, "we kindly request that a meeting be held between the family and building administration to determine a Kindergarten learning plan suitable for the individual child."
Full-day kindergarten is needed for Idaho children to build foundation skills, according to the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC).
"It also allows us to not have to catch them up so much in first grade. So, we're ahead of the game," Peterson said.
More often than not, catching up is needed.
According to the 2021 Idaho Reading Indicator Assessment scores, 40.8% of kindergarten students test at grade level. That number increases to 46% among all first-grade students.
"This is a pretty steady number for years and years," IAEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer said.
The annual literacy budget is appropriated every year, meaning this increased funding is one-time in nature. That concerns Oppenheimer who is in favor of legislation ensuring ongoing year-after-year funding, however, expanding the upcoming annual budget is a good first step, according to Oppenheimer.
"It really helps children develop foundation skills they need to be successful," Oppenheimer said.
Districts looking to implement full-day kindergarten still have to sort through logistics including space for the instruction. Twin Falls has enough room as is, Peterson said.
The district is looking to use these funds to hire nine more teachers to support their new full-time kindergarten students and provide the necessary materials.
"The addition of full-day kindergarten will be a huge boost to both our teachers and our students," Peterson said.
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