MERIDIAN, Idaho — The West Ada School District announced universal, free, full-day kindergarten starting in the 2022-2023 school year.
The move is made possible by an increase to the state's K-3 literacy funding for the upcoming fiscal year budget. Several districts across the state are using their cut of the funds to offer full-day kindergarten.
"We're super excited to offer this opportunity to our families," West Ada spokesperson, Niki Scheppers, said. "We understand the benefits of full-day kindergarten. We also understand every family needs to do what is in their best interest for their children."
However, Daniel and Afton Johnson say the best interest of their child is not getting addressed with the district changes.
The Johnson family has five children in the district, and it has been a positive experience. However, the Johnsons want to enroll their youngest in half-day kindergarten for the upcoming school year.
The option for half-day kindergarten is no longer available, the Johnsons said.
"I love our school. It's the best in the district, I personally believe," Afton said. "But, those hours half-day kindergarten give you are golden. They are special formative hour. They're fleeting years you have to work with your child. They're crucial."
The Johnsons recognize the utility and benefit of full-day kindergarten. However, they feel it is not needed for their children who already have foundation skills.
"We're not trying to fight the district, we're trying to work with the district," Afton said. "[Half-day kindergarten] is a valid and successful option for many parents and many children and it should be offered by the public school system."
The Johnsons cite a graph from school choice non-profit BLUUM, utilizing kindergarten test scores from the annual Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) test. The test scores from 2018-2019 show full-day students start behind their half-day peers, but catch up by the end of the school year.
IRI scores show both categories test at similar rates by the end of the school year, but these test score are not up to standard.
According to the 2021 Idaho Reading Indicator Assessment, 40.8% of kindergarten students scored at grade level. The annual score has been steady for years, according to Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children Executive Director, Beth Oppenheimer.
The district is already planning to offer an early release option for parents who prefer a half-day curriculum. The student would be enrolled in a full-day classroom, but the parent can opt-in to excuse their student from afternoon instruction.
The Johnsons are not satisfied with this accommodation, because they feel their child will miss important instruction planned in the afternoon -- instruction that would typically fit into a normally condensed half-day curriculum.
"It's a one-size-fits all and unfortunately for us, we don't fit that demographic," Daniel said. "We feel like we don't have voice in this."
The West Ada School District will offer parents a survey upon kindergarten registration through April, Scheppers said. The survey will close on May 4. The district is using it to gauge parental interest in half-day options and early release. Based on the survey results, the district plans to best accommodate the need for half-day instruction.
If demand calls for it, half-day classrooms will be in place to meet the demand of parents, according to Scheppers.
Until a decision is made, the Johnsons are stuck between pulling their child out of a school they love, or conforming to a curriculum that doesn’t fit their needs.
"It's a school of choice. She might lose her spot if we don't stay. We feel kind of forced into this full day option," Afton said.
The Boise School District announced their plan to implement free full-day kindergarten in January for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. BSD also plans to offer accommodations for families seeking a half-day option.
"To accommodate families who choose not to enroll their child in full-day kindergarten, the Boise School District plans to explore offering half-day kindergarten on a limited basis for the 2022 - 2023 school year," BSD spokesperson, Dan Hollar, wrote KTVB in an email. "Certain criteria will need to be met before a half-day kindergarten session can be offered. Next week, we plan to provide parents with further details and information about the possibility of offering half-day kindergarten."
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