Full day kindergarten a great, but possibly costly, idea

TRENTON – Calling half-day kindergarten “antiquated,” Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-38) of Fair Lawn, said it’s time for all the state’s school districts to offer full-day kindergarten to keep up with growing expectations and worldwide competitiveness.

Currently, 76 percent of the state’s school districts provide full-day kindergarten.

However, Wagner insists, “we can do better.”

Her bill that would require full-day kindergarten, A2927, was up for discussion only at the Assembly Education Committee on Monday.

In addition for all school districts to require full-day kindergarten, the bill would put in place a “uniform age” requirement for enrollment. Some school districts may accept students based on one birthdate, but another district may not. Wagner wants those discrepencies done away with.

“Full-time kindergarten is necessary,” she said.

Currently, 10 states mandate full-time kindergarten and other states are looking into providing various incentives for school districts to implement it.

It was not known how much full-day kindergarten statewide would cost, nor where the money would come from.

However, Wagner suggests that the state should fund kindergarten at the same per-pupil cost levels that it does for first grade.

“We need to level the playing field,” she said. “We’re putting so much learning in that basket.”

Wagner’s bill received support from education groups like the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, citing the tremendous social, academic and economic benefits investment in early education produces.

However, Lynne Strickland of the Garden State Coalition said while she is supportive of the concept, she is worried about the costs.

“It really needs to be addressed because it’s such a large stumbling block,” she said, citing the 2 percent property tax cap.

Unlike such things as health insurance costs, full-day kindergarten would not be exempt from the cap, education officals said.

To help find ways, she suggested creating a task force.

Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) agreed with her, adding that the costs of not only hiring additional staff, but to expand school facilities, could be challenging for many school districts.

But Wagner stressed the goal needed to be accomplished, despite any obstacles that may come.

“I know that money is tight…but it won’t always be tight,” she said. “Maybe we have to redstribute the money. It’s just priorities.”

Full day kindergarten a great, but possibly costly, idea