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Idaho legislature expected to take up full day kindergarten concept

The idea for state funded full-day kindergarten is back in 2022 after failing in 2021. Advocates for the idea are hopeful the budget surplus will promote the idea.

BOISE, Idaho — For the 2022-2023 school year, the Boise School District has a major new offering. Free, full-day kindergarten for students in district.

“We’ve been thinking about this for a while. The legislature, currently, only funds part-time kindergarten for school districts and we’ve really wanted to offer full day for our families for a couple of reasons,” Beth Oppenheimer, a Boise School Board Trustee and the Executive Director for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said.

Oppenheimer said in Boise and beyond, they have seen the impact of full day kindergarten.

“I think a lot of folks think that full day kindergarten is children at desks with pencils, but it's so much more than that," Oppenheimer said. "This is where they learn to interact with one another. This is where they learn to play with one another. They learn to do school, and they also begin that love of learning."

Advocates for full day kindergarten are keeping a close eye on discussions at the statehouse as legislation is being crafted on the topic. In recent years, proposals for state funded full day kindergarten have stalled for a variety of reasons. One factor has been cost, but with a major budget surplus there now seems to more options.

“Well, I think it is gaining traction, and I've seen more support today than ever before," Oppenheimer said. "I think that our legislators are starting to realize that the impact that full day kindergarten can have not only on learning but also supporting our parents."

Still, some lawmakers are concerned about the startup and on-going costs of funding all-day kindergarten. For example, Rep. Wendy Horman, a member of the state’s budget committee, told KTVB that while keeping an open mind, she has concerns when it comes to program sustainability and relying on the budget surplus money courtesy of the federal COVID-19 relief funds.

"Sustainability I think is a valid question to ask. You don't want to invest in programs that you can't sustain over time," Horman said.

While no final bill is quite ready for debate, the concept behind the bill is expected to be like those in years past: A funding mechanism that allows districts to hold all day kindergarten. Not all districts would have to participate if they did not feel it worked for them. As an education advocate, Oppenheimer said now is a crucial time for conversations on the topic.

“Our legislators do need to talk to their school districts in their own regions because we know across the state school districts really do want this opportunity,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer said she would love to see districts have the option for full day kindergarten, but education advocates say they understand full day kindergarten may not be for every Idaho family.

“There are some families who prefer part time kindergarten for their for their children, and that's perfectly fine," Oppenheimer said. "I do hope as things move forward that the option is on the table for those families who really only want to have state kindergarten. You know, this is not mandated. There's a difference between funding full day kindergarten and mandating full day kindergarten. No one is talking about mandating anything."

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