For several decades Utah educators have been advocating for all day kindergarten opportunities for all students, and with HB193 being enthusiastically supported this past legislative session, many were confident this would be the year. HB193’s $65 million would fund all-day classroom instruction for all kindergarteners in every district in the state of Utah.
“The last day of the session it wasn’t funded,” said Superintendent of Sevier Schools Cade Douglas. “This was a real blow to us. But we recently found out that a good chunk of the $12.2 million that was funded was awarded to us, so we are excited that we will be able to offer all day instruction to all incoming kindergarten students this upcoming school year.”
He said data shows that there is a six-year gap between students coming into kindergarten in reading, meaning there are some students reading and some who have never held a book and do not know any letters or sounds on their first day of school. There is also a 4-year gap in math knowledge.
“Our goal is to close that gap,” said Douglas. “These students’ success levels skyrocket with additional instruction in all day kindergarten. Our data shows that. Data also shows it’s much easier to catch up a kindergartener than a high schooler, but for the past several years we’ve only been able to offer extended kindergarten instruction to 25-30% of our students, based on those students most at risk for academic failure. This additional time makes a huge impact on these students’ successes in school, and it’s been hard to limit our numbers to such a small percentage, so this is huge for us.”
With this newly announced funding, all day kindergarten will be optional, but strongly encouraged, for all incoming kindergarten students district wide. The funding is part of a 3-year grant from the Utah legislature and district officials are hopeful that after the three years, the funding will move from a grant to a normal, everyday funding piece of public education.
“We’re definitely behind this,” said Douglas. “Obviously it is the parents’ choice, but in our research well over 95% of families want this all-day option. In fact, I’ve had parents call me and can’t believe we don’t have all day kindergarten available for every student. Utah is way behind the national average and the majority of the states already offer it. Early intervention is the key!”
Jill Porter, Principal of Ashman Elementary in Richfield, is another huge advocate of all day kindergarten and has seen the positive effects in her school.
“Parents need to understand that kindergarten is extremely important in getting kids set up for success,” said Porter. “The only students we don’t see growth in are the students who are chronically absent. We can pretty much guarantee successful growth if they’ll come to school.”’
Lisa Crane, Sevier School District’s Director of Special Services and Federal Programs, said not only is the funding a blessing for incoming kindergarteners, it is also a huge benefit for the teachers as well.
“Kindergarten teachers have set standards they are required to cover throughout the year, and these standards haven’t changed. But it has doubled their teaching time to cover this necessary information,” said Crane. “All day kindergarten sessions give our teachers time for remediation and intervention. Our elementary school teachers are passionate about their students and are passionately embracing this extra time to help their students learn. This doesn’t just apply to students who are struggling, it also applies to those who are advanced and ready for more. They can still advance and learn, and we can still guarantee they’ll get at least a year’s growth as well.”
Crane said she’s very excited Sevier District is now able to offer all-day kindergarten to all students, and they hope they’ll have 100% of all students take advantage of this opportunity, and they’re confident they’ll be able to make the scheduling, bussing, space, and everything work. She also said the students won’t be sitting at a desk doing drills all day, but rather the teachers will have more time for small group work, activities, and creative learning exercises.
Salina Elementary Principal Kole Krahenbuhl said he is also thrilled with the funding the district has received and said he “really, really, really hopes all incoming kindergarteners will take the all-day option.”
“Research has proven it is effective,” he said. “It helps jumpstart our students and helps them be successful in later grades. Utah is way behind the curve in all day kindergarten and it’s no coincidence that students who are a little behind academically make a ton of growth in all day kindergarten. It’s easy to see the benefits and I hope our parents will consider how we can help their children grow.”
He said it will be a seamless transition in Salina Elementary because currently there are three full day kindergarten teachers, 2.5 funded by the district and the remaining .5 funded from Salina Elementary’s budget. Out of the 70-80 kindergarten students currently enrolled, roughly 1/3 participate in OEK (optional extended kindergarten). District funding will free up budgets for additional Instructional Aides and other necessary expenditures.
He said research shows OEK students make greater learning gains and are more ready for first grade. All day kindergarten is an important early learning investment that saves time and money down the road because special learning needs can be assessed and addressed early, and a strong foundation of literacy means fewer interventions at older ages. In addition, OEK provides families with a full day of high quality, age-appropriate learning in a safe environment.
“In past years our kindergarten students start school a week or so later than others in elementary and we use that time for testing to give us a baseline,” said Mr. Krahenbuhl. “We’ve had to draw the line as to who could participate in OEK because that’s all we have had room for, and those limitations and restrictions have not allowed us to reach all we’ve wanted to. This funding gives us the opportunity to reach everyone. It’s a good thing, and we’re excited.”
He said if parents have questions or concerns, please feel free to visit with him or a kindergarten teacher and they’d be more than happy to discuss what would work best for your student. There’s also a website www.utahfulldayk.today that answers many questions parents might have, and though the site was created as a means for citizens to get behind legislation for all day Kindergarten, it still provides powerful information and pertinent data.