State funds might not be answer to full-day Kindergarten at Shen

Students at Karigon Elementary School in Clifton Park prepare to go home on the first day of school last September.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAHPERStudents at Karigon Elementary School in Clifton Park prepare to go home on the first day of school last September. MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAHPER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Elected and school officials aren’t sure a new effort to fund full-day kindergarten will be enough for Shenendehowa Central Schools to expand the program next year.

On July 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, announced a joint effort to support full-day kindergarten through next year’s budget for school districts that do not have such programs. Though details — including the exact amount of funding being sought and how the aid would be provided to each district — were still unclear, the goal is to expand half-day programs to full-day programs, according to the governor’s office.

“Gov. Cuomo will work with the Assembly in a joint effort to provide funding for school districts to help pay for the transition to full-day kindergarten as part of next year’s budget,” Heastie said in a prepared statement. “Experience has shown that full-day kindergarten gives children a head start and allows them to grow and thrive in so many ways.”

Shen is one of six districts in the state that does not offer full-day kindergarten. District officials cited a lack of space as the roadblock, and they were unable to say whether new funding would make a difference.

“We don’t offer full-day kindergarten because we don’t have the classroom space to offer it, so it really depends on what this proposal is,” Shen spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani said. “We have to wait to see the details.”

The issue of offering full-day kindergarten is one the district has come back to repeatedly. Right now, Shen offers a morning kindergarten session and an afternoon kindergarten session. There was total enrollment of 586 students last year.

In order to go to a full day, the district has estimated that it would need to hire 15 additional full-time teachers, and would need to utilize 11 additional classrooms. The district also offers an extended-day program, in which students are able to stay longer than the half-day to receive supplemental instruction. Of the total number of kindergarten students at Shen last year, 151, or 26 percent, were enrolled in the extended-day program.

Local legislators are also supportive of full-day kindergarten but were hesitant to endorse a funding effort that had no details or plan associated with it.

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said that the concept of full-day kindergarten and getting children into comprehensive educational settings as soon as possible has many positive effects.

“I’m very supportive,” he said of full-day kindergarten. “I’d love to get all those kids into a full-day program. As a past teacher, I know the importance of having that opportunity at an early stage.”

But, he said, though he agrees with full-day programs in theory, he echoed Shen’s concerns over limited classroom space, and said that he has yet to see any concrete plan or proposal for the funding or assurance that the district would be given the accommodations it needs to house such a program in its buildings. So he would be reserving final judgment until there are more details available, and until he receives input from the district.

During the most recent legislative session, Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, backed a bill that would have set aside $25 million in aid to help districts support full-day kindergarten programs.

Shen falls within Walsh’s Assembly district, and she said one of the main reasons she got involved with the bill was to make sure Shen gets its share of the aid.

That being said, she pointed out that Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, another school in her district, was also late to the full-day kindergarten game and footed the entire bill for its own program, without state aid.

“I want to see what kind of numbers are going to be put on it and how it would work,” Walsh said of the new proposal.