Aid for half-day kindergarten threatened

Some South Dakota lawmakers want the state to stop giving schools full-time money for part-time kindergarten students.

Senate Bill 72, which passed the Senate education committee 4-3 Tuesday, would pro-rate the state’s per-student allocation for kindergartners who do not attend class for the full school day. The savings would be distributed to all school districts.

“The state is paying full-price for part-time,” said bill sponsor Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford. “The intent of this bill is simply to get what we pay for with state general fund dollars.”

It’s unknown how many students get less than full-day kindergarten because the state Department of Education does not keep that data. But the money at stake is significant – more than $2 million in the Rapid City School District alone.

Sen. Elizabeth Kraus, R-Rapid City, supported the bill even though it would cost her home district money; she said the state ought to manage school funding like a business.

Peters amended her bill Tuesday, adding the provision about putting the savings back into the school funding formula instead of the state general fund. Another amendment would implement the change over two years, softening the blow to affected districts; half-time students would be worth 75 percent of the state allocation next year.

Sandra Waltman, lobbyist for the teachers union, said full funding for part-time classes is a quirk of the funding formula, but with schools facing a proposed 10 percent funding cut, this is not the year to address it.

Associated School Boards of South Dakota Executive Director Wayne Lueders said the bill, in effect, would mandate that districts provide full-time kindergarten.

The Brandon Valley School District offers full-day kindergarten at one of its elementary schools and half-day at the other three. The school board is studying the academic effectiveness of full-time kindergarten as it considers a move to all-day classes for every elementary.

Superintendent David Pappone said the decision should be about which model is best academically, but Peters’ bill makes it increasingly about money. The district would forfeit $540,000 a year if it stays with half-day kindergarten.

“The financial aspect of it’s going to be critically important,” Pappone said.

If the bill passes the legislature, he said, class sizes will increase, whether they go to full-day kindergarten.

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