Education funding bill passes, provides for all-day kindergarten

Youngsters who will be starting off kindergarten in the fall of 2014 may or may not be happy to know they can spend all day, not just a half day at school.

The Minnesota Senate approved a $15.7 billion education-funding bill on Sunday, May 19 in a 41-26 vote. The omnibus bill passed in the House earlier in a 78-56 vote.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the K-12 Omnibus budget bill on Wednesday, May 22.

The bill allows for $485 million in new education spending -- $133 million of which will go toward funding voluntary all-day kindergarten and $40 million for early childhood education scholarships for under privileged youth.

Mounds View pleasantly surprised

42-B Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, said the funds for all-day kindergarten would be dispersed to all school districts that choose to participate in the voluntary all-day option starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Prior to the May 19 legislation, providing funding for all-day kindergarten was passed, Mounds View Public Schools had already decided to offer free all-day kindergarten starting in 2014.

“Our school board was already committed to moving forward with the free all-day option, regardless of what happened in the legislature,” Mounds View Public Schools Superintendent Dan Hoverman said. “The fact that there is funding available will not change those plans.”

Mounds View currently offers a fee-based all-day option, which costs about $2,500 a year per pupil.

Hoverman said providing free all-day kindergarten is an important step that falls in line with the district’s comprehensive pre-K-14 program, as well as its equity promise, which states that all students in Mounds View schools be prepared for post-secondary success regardless of race, class or disability.

The bill will not finance capital improvements, so currently the only hurdle standing in the way for some districts to provide the free all-day option may be lack of available space.

Space is tight in Mounds View’s elementary schools, but the district plans to use the Snail Lake Education Center in Shoreview and the Pike Lake Education Center in New Brighton for kindergarten classes starting in fall 2014.

Room in Roseville?

Some neighboring districts plan to use state funding as well, but need time to determine if there is adequate space in school buildings.

The Roseville Area Schools has a fee-based all-day kindergarten program, which costs $2,932 a year for each student enrolled in the extra half-day option.

According to Kathy Englund, a district communications specialist, 366 of the district’s 507 kindergarteners participated in the all-day option this year. 

Roseville Area Schools Public Relations Director Karen Schaub said the district would utilize the funding for all-day kindergarten, but said space could be an issue.

“We need more details on this bill to see how it rolls out,” Schaub said. “We will have to see if space is an issue. In a week’s time we will know more.”

Schaub said there is currently all-day kindergarten available in every elementary school in the district. She said the district has offered scholarships to some families who want to take part in the all-day option but cannot afford it.

The Roseville district wants to make the all-day option available to students regardless of financial means, she added.

“With what we have learned about early childhood education and our goal of getting all children to read by third grade, we will do what it takes to make this happen,” Schaub added.

Space tight in 282

St. Anthony-New Brighton Independent School District Superintendent Bob Laney said District 282 administrators have talked about the possibility of offering a free all-day kindergarten option throughout this legislative session.

Like many metro schools and schools across the nation, space is somewhat limited at the district’s lone elementary school -- Wilshire Park.

Wilshire Park Elementary currently has 88 enrolled kindergarteners, 35 of whom participate in the fee-based all-day option.

The per-pupil cost for the extra half-day option is $21 per day, or about $3,650 per year, according to Wilshire Park Elementary School Principal Kari Page.

Laney said the district will take advantage of the state funding, but added that it is too early to say what changes would take place or when.

“The bill just passed yesterday, so we have nothing finalized yet, but I’m anticipating that we will offer free all-day kindergarten in the future.”

Isaacson said that although the bill has stipulations that prevent money from being used for capital improvements on schools that choose to accept funding for the voluntary all-day kindergarten option, he believes that may change during next year’s legislative session.

“We have to make sure we can provide for everyone,” he said. “Next year we will be looking at the capacity issue school’s may have and ways for funding capital improvements at those schools. That would be my goal.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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