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Willmar, Minn., officials enthused by proposed kindergarten funding

WILLMAR — Area school superintendents are pleased to hear Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators talking about providing funding for all-day, every day kindergarten.

The state currently provides funding for half-time kindergarten, but most districts in west central Minnesota provide a full-time program for their young students anyway, using district funds to do it.

Legislation promoting funding for full-time kindergarten was introduced in the first hours of the legislation session, and the governor included it in his budget proposal released Tuesday.

“I’m glad they’re talking about it,” said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.

“I think it’s a very positive thing for this district to have,” Kjergaard said. English Language Learner students and kids with special needs “need to be in school all day,” he added, and he believes it’s been beneficial for all Willmar’s students.

“We couldn’t go back to being a half-day program,” he said.

Parents in the Montevideo School District at one time paid tuition to keep their children in a full-time kindergarten program in addition to the half-day program provided by the district.

Two years ago, the district made the commitment to provide full-time kindergarten at district expense.

“We’re really pleased with it,” said Superintendent Luther Heller. The district has about 100 students in kindergarten. Full funding could bring another $75,000 to the district.

“It gives more time for math and reading instruction at an earlier age,” he said.

Low-income students often have less access to pre-school programs, he said, and the extra time in kindergarten helps them get a stronger start in school.

“That’s a good place to invest our educational dollars,” Heller said. “I think the benefits of it are really huge.”

In an email interview, New London-Spicer Superintendent Paul Carlson said it has benefited students to be in school more days. The district has about 115 students in a district-funded full-day kindergarten program.

If the bill passes, “This would be additional revenue for our district we would use to provide intervention opportunities for students,” Carlson said.

Hearings on the kindergarten bills and on Dayton’s budget proposals are just beginning, so it’s difficult to handicap the idea’s chances of becoming law. Kjergaard’s concern is, “I don’t know if they have enough money to afford it.”

With a supportive governor whose party controls the Legislature, “I think this would be the best shot at getting it through,” Heller said.

“This is also a way to get in on the ground floor of improving our schools.”

Other area districts

MACCRAY Schools have about 63 students in a district-funded full-day kindergarten program. Superintendent Greg Schmidt said full funding for the program would more likely

Minnewaska School District in Glenwood has about 80 students in a district-funded full-time kindergarten program. Superintendent Gregory Ohl said that the program provides more time for developmental activities, socialization and pre-reading programs.

About 88 students are in the full-time kindergarten program at Redwood Area Schools in Redwood Falls. Reede Gray Elementary Principal Stephanie Flickinger said the full-day program is “helping (students) gain a deeper understanding of language, reading and math concepts.” Additional funding would allow the district to spend money on needs in other grade levels, she said.

Belgrade-Brooten-El Rosa School District’s 63 kindergarteners attend full-time kindergarten provided by the district. Superintendent Matt Bullard said the additional funding would provide resources for other student programs. The full-time kindergarten helps put students on the road to developing the skills they’ll need when they take standardized tests in elementary school, Bullard said.

Dawson-Boyd Schools have a four-day kindergarten program for 49 kindergarten students. Wednesdays are used to work with children needing additional academic and social support, according to Superintendent Brad Madsen. The district would welcome state funding for all-day, every day kindergarten, he said.

For Yellow Medicine East’s 58 kindergarteners, all-day, every day classes are provided by the district. If the state provided full funding the district would likely use the funding to add early childhood programs, said Superintendent Al Stoeckman.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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