Education

Minnesota Joins States with Free All-Day Kindergarten

September 2, 2014

Avery Bastian’s pink tennis shoes matched her backpack perfectly. Her Cinderella Thermos was filled. She’d memorized the all-important personal identification number she would need to get breakfast at Hale School in south Minneapolis. And while there was a slight moment of hesitation when her mom dropped her off at Dana Elfering’s classroom — “Don’t leave,” Avery whispered — her school career began, just like thousands of other Minnesota kids who start kindergarten this week.

This year, for the first time, the state of Minnesota is picking up the $134 million tab for full-day kindergarten, a move educators hope will provide an academic jump-start for the state’s youngest learners.

Before now, about half of the state’s schools were offering free full-day programming. Others offered it, but at a cost to parents of $2,000 to $4,000 a year.

Most educators are thrilled by the prospect of having more classroom time with kindergartners, some of whom enter class without knowing their ABCs or how to write their names. A longer day means that teachers can go deeper into the subjects they teach, while worrying less about the time it takes to do such things as help students take off their coats, go to the bathroom and sit down at their desks.

“Socially, emotionally, cognitively … everything is hitting the fan at this age,” said Becky Magnuson, a veteran kindergarten teacher in the Forest Lake School District. “The time we have with them is very important.”

Most studies show that all-day kindergarten gives students an academic boost through first grade. After that, there’s less consensus.

Full-day kindergarten provides the most long-lasting benefits for poor students, studies show, particularly those learning to speak English and those with special needs.

State education leaders say all-day kindergarten might be the key to reversing the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students.

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