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School districts plan for all-day kindergarten

If state legislators don’t fund all-day kindergarten, Phoenix-area school districts say they have a backup plan to keep it in place.

Full-day kindergarten made news early in the legislative session as lawmakers discussed ways to close Arizona’s $3 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July. Four months later, school districts don’t think the program will be reduced to half-day funding as it was before former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano pushed her signature policy goal through the Legislature in 2006.

Lawmakers approved the program in June 2006 giving $160 million over two years to full-day kindergarten.

Paradise Valley, Chandler and Mesa school districts have joined others across metro Phoenix in notifying parents that they’ll offer all-day kindergarten next year.

At Phoenix Madison Elementary School District, parents would have to pay for the afternoon session of kindergarten at two of the district’s elementary schools to round out a full day of school. “We have the backup plan,” said Kristen Landry, the communication director for the Madison Elementary School District. “Ideally, we want to offer free full-day kindergarten.”

Several districts have K-3 overrides in place that would have allowed them to offer the program regardless of what budget cuts were handed down by the Legislature. Many districts proposed overrides to provide full-day kindergarten before the state funded the program in 2006.

Voters renewed Paradise Valley’s K-3 override in November. Dysart Unified School District would be able to fund full-day kindergarten for one more year with the district’s override if the state took funding away, said Jim Dean, director of community relations.

Phoenix Washington Elementary may look to renew its budget override in November. The school’s override is in its fifth year, and because of that, the funding the school receives through the initiative has been cut by a third. The override usually pulls in $5.4 million a year, but next year it’ll be down by $1.8 million.

State lawmakers are weighing laws allowing districts to charge tuition for full-day kindergarten even if the program is fully funded by the state, said Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa. “Literally, you can have a tuition-based program,” Crandall said. “(In) communities whose parents have the wherewithal to pay…you can basically charge tuition to fund the all-day kindergarten program. Resources are very scarce. You want to make sure you use resources where you don’t have other funding alternatives.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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