The legislation would fully fund all-day kindergarten for the 13 school districts in Rhode Island without full-day K beginning in the fall of 2015.
“Statistics show that early childhood education helps better prepare students for the academic challenges they will face in elementary school,” Gallo said. “When children are better prepared from the start, it allows for accelerated learning and more time for teachers to provide meaningful learning opportunities. Full-day kindergarten is essential to smooth the transition into first grade and to developing solid cognitive, physical and social skills in the classroom.”
The bill would rectify a problem that has arisen since the passage of a 2012 law that was supposed to help districts transition to full-day K programs.
Currently, school districts that had implemented full-day kindergarten before 2012 receive full funding under the education aid formula. Districts making the transition after 2012 have been funded under the proportional transition plan formula.
But that formula used a phase-in approach to funding, giving districts 25 percent of the per-student cost every year over four years.
“Although the goal of the 2012 legislation was
to encourage districts to begin offering full-day kindergarten, the transition
plan funding scheme is a disincentive and barrier to some school districts to
adopt full-day kindergarten,” Gallo said.
Case in point: Cranston, which had to decline $200,000 because the district simply couldn't afford to offer full-day K with the funding trickling in under the formula. School officials derided the plan as an unfair request on the district because it had to float a large part of the cost at the beginning of the arrangement. Because it couldn't, it had to drop it altogether.
With this bill, it will be much easier for the 13 schools still without full day-K to offer it.
“This legislation, if enacted, will eliminate those financial barriers and ensure that all school districts have the opportunity, and fiscal wherewithal, to offer this important early learning experience for all children in the state,” said Senator Gallo.
The legislation will also require the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to rank applications for one-time start-up costs for those districts that are operating half-day programs and that are changing to full-day programs. Those districts will then be fully funded in rank order.
The bill requires that priority be given to districts with enrollment of greater than 8,000 students and, if there are none of those, then to districts with enrollment greater than 4,000 students.
“In essence,” said Senator Gallo, “we want the greatest number of students to benefit from this money, especially in the budgetary climate we operate in today. We want to provide our largest school districts that may have greater start-up costs with the ability to do the necessary and often expensive upgrades for full-day programs that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive.”
The Gallo bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. Co-sponsors include Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston.