Kansas district ponders charging for all-day kindergarten

(AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) – What is all day Kindergarten worth? In Newton, it may be worth $200 a month.

“As costs go up, you cannot continue to do all that you have done with fewer resources,” says Newton Superintendent, Dr. Deborah Hamm. “And even though the amount of money stays the same, the costs associated with doing business goes up. And when costs go up, you have to trim. So, where do you trim? And we’ve been trimming for years now.”

Dr. Hamm says there are no other areas to trim the budget. So, the district is kicking around the idea of making parents pay for all-day Kindergarten.

Right now, the state of Kansas only pays districts for half a day of Kindergarten.

Paying for all day Kindergarten is immediately not popular with some parents.

“It’s very frustrating because education shouldn’t be that costly at a young age,” says Ashley Horchem, Newton parent. “Realistically, I wish they would look elsewhere.”

Newton is not alone. Some districts are considering changes to all-day Kindergarten. Wichita, USD 259, is not taking changes off the table for Kindergarten. The district still has to cut anywhere from $12 million to $22 million.

Wichita schools is not considering charging parents, which could bring in more revenue. But, eliminating all-day Kindergarten could save the Wichita district from $5.5 million to $6 million.

Newton school leaders say they don’t want to consider more fees, but they may have to consider the change.

“We don’t want to increase any charges to our families,” says Dr. Hamm. “They already contribute quite a bit to our funding. We have families that it would be difficult for, if not impossible, for them to pay.”

Dr. Hamm says the local board of education does not like the idea. But, she says, static funding from the state does not take into account increases in expenses for everything from increased insurance rates to fuel rates to increases in food costs.

“All I can really tell you is we use the dollars that we receive from the state to provide a full-day kindergarten,” says Dr. Hamm. “When the state figured the amount of money that would come to districts, they only counted money for half a kindergarten student. That doesn’t fall into the block grant, because we don’t get dollars in the same way anymore. It’s the same dollars every year, regardless what enrollment we have.”

Other districts already charge some for all-day Kindergarten. The state sent out a survey back in 2013, asking schools to say what they charge for all-day Kindergarten.

About two-dozen districts replied to the survey. The figures vary quite a bit. Schools in the Kansas City area, where many districts are considered among the wealthiest school districts in the state, generally charge the most.

Blue Valley charges $1,297 a child for one semester. Desoto charges $1,350 a semester. Closer to Wichita, Goddard charges $945 a semester while Renwick charges $450 a semester.

Newton schools says it’s not a done-deal. But, with static funding from the state and another $800,000 to cut from the Newton school budget, it is a possibility. School board members have not made a decision.

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