Kindergarten’s selective fate

State-funded full-day kindergarten in Washington isn’t a luxury, but an indispensable component of basic education. Nearly a decade ago, research documenting the link between early learning and post-K academic success prompted legislators to codify the definition of full-day kindergarten as fundamental to basic education. And in January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was in violation of Article IX, Section 1 of Washington’s Constitution, that the “ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” means just that.

State law requires implementation of voluntary, full day kindergarten by 2017-18, but the effort got an injection Monday as the Office of the Superintendant of Public Instruction announced that 269 more schools in 131 school districts will start to receive state kindergarten funding. As The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield reports, this is encouraging news for the Edmonds and Everett school districts which have embraced the early learning template and bolstered their preschool programs.

The Legislature’s funding effectively doubles the number of eligible kindergarten students, from 17,603 students, or 22 percent, to 35,420, or 44 percent, in 2013–14.

According to OSPI, the phase-in period targets schools with the highest percentage of low-income students.

Here lies the lead lining, when the constitution’s “all children” language becomes relative, at least for the short term. The Mukilteo School District had to decline funding for five eligible schools because of a lack of classroom space. According to OSPI documents, 653 projected kindergarteners won’t be served. That places Mukilteo first among the decliners, dwarfing the next-highest district that said no — Sequim, with 81 students.

“We’re disappointed that we can’t take advantage of the funding for full-day kindergarten classes,” Mukilteo School District Superintendent Marci Larsen said in a statement. “Our elementary schools are already overcrowded and one of the unfortunate consequences of overcrowding is that we simply don’t have the additional classrooms available to make full-day kindergarten happen. Our school board is currently considering options that could result in a bond proposal that would fund the construction of more elementary space.”

The school district isn’t to blame, and voters who didn’t provide supermajority approval of a bond measure in 2006 and two bond measures in 2008, well… blame is a political game. Mukilteo’s example transcends politics and goes to the core of civic, education and family life. When the district tees up another bond in 2014, will voters step up? This cannot stand.

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