The RI House of Representatives has approved the bill that would provide funding for up to four school districts for full-day kindergarten beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.
Barrington Rep. Joy Hearn, the prime sponsor of the legislation (2012-H 8049), hopes to help close Rhode Island’s achievement gap in early education and provide valid incentives for school districts to create full-day kindergarten programs. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on the companion bill for Friday.
“This bill is a message from the General Assembly, the commissioner of education and all child advocates that full-day kindergarten is important for the early development of Rhode Island’s children,” Hearn said. “This is not a mandate – this is an incentive to get other school districts with half-day programs to jump on board with this. We need our students to be able to meet the challenges that await them in a rigorous academic world.”
The commissioner of elementary and secondary education would be responsible in determining which four school districts would receive the funds, which are contingent upon funding next year. To be eligible, the school district must be a public school district, which as of Sept. 1, 2011 operates a half-day kindergarten program, and must serve more than half of the kindergarten students in the district.
If there are more than four applicants, the commissioner will have the authority to select four schools among a pool of applicants that fit these qualifications.
The funding would offset a portion of the reasonable one-time startup costs, including but not limited to desks, books, facility upgrades and any other necessary expenses associated with each school’s implementation of a full-day kindergarten program. The Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would then report on the progress of the program by May 1 of each following year.
The schools chosen for the program must continue to operate for five years. The intent is to continue offering the program until all school districts have the opportunity to offer universal full-day kindergarten.
Currently in Rhode Island, 19 school districts offer full-day kindergarten programs; 17 do not. Those 17 offer half-day programs or, in some cases, half-day programs with one full-day class. Rhode Island is below the national average for all-day kindergarten programs.