EVERETT — This school year, Everett has been able to provide full-day kindergarten to about 1,300 students at 10 schools.
Of those, the state pays for the program at six schools. The other four programs are paid by Everett Public Schools, which is spending $1.1 million this year.
Full-day kindergarten is a good indicator of future student achievement. Not reading well by the end of the first grade, for example, is correlated with less success in later school years, said Lynn Lahey, the district’s early learning curriculum specialist.
Low-income and minority children tend to benefit the most from full-day kindergarten, and teachers have the time to help students retain what they are taught, she added.
“We also know children need multiple repetitions, multiple opportunities to learn a skill,” Lahey said. “When you have only half a day it limits your time for kids to have that practice.”
District officials asked the school board at a recent meeting to continue the funding next year. But everything depends on the outcome of the Legislature’s budget sessions.
The board was generally receptive to maintaining the expense.
“I struggled a bit with committing $1 million to full-day kindergarten, but you’ve erased any doubts I might have had,” board director Carol Andrews said.
The district’s budgeting process won’t begin in earnest until the summer, after the Legislature has approved a budget.
The state is required to fund full-day kindergarten by the 2017-18 school year, but it is also wrestling with multiple obligations to fund basic education, decrease class size, and get schools to implement national Common Core standards.
The rollout of full-day kindergarten started in 2007 at Hawthorne Elementary, a school in which nearly 90 percent of the students are on free or reduced-price lunch programs.
The state’s level of funding has gradually increased since then, targeting those schools with the next highest percentage of needy students.
Then in 2014, Everett decided to spend its own money to expand the program to four more schools: Silver Lake, Whittier, Woodside and James Monroe Elementary.
Next year, the state is supposed to take over the funding in those schools, and the district would move down the list, introducing full-day kindergarten at Jefferson, View Ridge, Silver Firs and Penny Creek Elementary.
“Our hope is that the board will commit to continuing that funding,” said Cynthia Jones, the district’s Director of Categorical Programs.
“If the state doesn’t add any additional schools, our hope is to keep funding at the four schools where we have it,” Jones said.
There are 1,776 kindergartners registered in Everett Public Schools, and a majority of them are now in full-day programs.
Since the 2012-13 school year, the number of students in the district enrolled in full-day kindergarten has risen from 655 to 1,296 this year.
The number of half-day kindergartners has likewise decreased over that period of time, from 846 to 480 this year.
The remaining schools in the district with just half-day kindergarten offer full-day services if parents pay tuition, but not all parents are able or willing to do so.
At those schools offering half-day kindergarten, only 43 percent of students are paying the extra tuition for full-day.
The Everett Public Schools Foundation has contributed $51,000 this year to help parents offset some of that cost, but that is only for a total of 26 kids, district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.
Expanding kindergarten also means finding more classroom space, which means buying new portable classrooms to house them. The district currently has 84 portables, and has budgeted to buy 11 more for the coming school year to handle overall growth.
That may seem like a problem, but other districts can’t even do that much.
In 2013, the neighboring Mukilteo School District, which has 1,053 kindergartners, was one of 34 districts statewide to turn down funding for full-day kindergarten simply because it had run out of room to expand.
Mukilteo left $1.6 million on the table, more than any other district in the state.
“We’ve already got a lot of portable classrooms on our campuses,” said district communications manager Andy Muntz.
A $119.15 million bond approved by the voters in 2014 would fund the construction of a new elementary school and early learning center to open in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Only then would the district have the space to offer full-day kindergarten to all its students, Muntz said.
Even if the state provides less money than expected for full-day kindergarten, the Everett district would try to find a way to keep the full-day program funded, Lahey said.
“There is so much evidence of the importance of impact in these early years, I doubt it would be an area that will be cut back at this point,” Lahey said.