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Barriers remain to all-day kindergarten in Farmington, Rosemount

When the Minnesota Legislature agreed to provide funding for districts that want to offer all-day kindergarten, it removed one barrier to the program in local schools. But there are still plenty of questions to answer before classes start in the fall of 2104.

Maybe most important: Where are all the students going to go?

Both the Farmington and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school districts have supported the idea of offering all-day kindergarten as an option for all students. But neither district appears to have the space it needs right now to make the classes work if they prove as popular as expected.

In District 196, the estimate is that 85 percent of students will sign up for all-day kindergarten, but neighboring districts that currently offer the program at no cost have seen higher numbers than that, with only a handful of families opting for half-day kindergarten.

Farmington director of educational programs Barb Duffrin said the district expects to need an additional two classrooms per building to offer free all-day kindergarten.

The situation is similar in District 196.

"The superintendent has been very vocal in saying that we would offer (all-day kindergarten) across the board in all of our schools," said Julie Olson, District 196's director of elementary education. "What we do know is that some of our schools don't have space across the board.

"We've got pockets where schools are very full right now and we won't have room in those schools for the additional kindergarten."

With the legislature's decision coming just last month and state funding for all-day kindergarten not scheduled to start until the 2014-15 school year, neither district has had much time to talk about how to solve that problem. Olson said District 196 has discussed sending students whose home school is too crowded to buildings where there is more room for their kindergarten year, then bringing them back for first grade. Duffrin suggested the solution in Farmington might involve a look at the bigger picture of who goes to school where.

"We really need to look at it in a bigger context of all of our boundaries," Duffrin said. "It's a lot bigger than adding two classrooms."

Both districts have for several years offered paid all-day kindergarten. In District 196 about 55 percent of kindergarteners are enrolled. In Farmington, about 20 percent of students were enrolled this year in Kinder Journey, the district's all-day program. Another 17 percent are enrolled in Kindergarten Complement, a service that offers full-day services on a limited basis, with parents choosing which days they want their child to stay for the full school day.

Keeping kindergarteners in school appears to make a difference. In District 196, several years of results show that students who attend all-day kindergarten consistently score better on first grade assessments than do students who attend half-day kindergarten.

But Olson said there is a "significantly higher" number of students enrolled at non-Title I schools -- where fewer families qualify for free and reduced-price lunches -- than there are at Title I schools. Olson said that difference in participation can widen the achievement gap between students from high- and low income families.

In Farmington, Community Education director Heidi Cunningham said the district sometimes has trouble filling its Kinder Journey programs at Farmington Elementary School, one of the district's two Title I schools. Some other schools have multiple sections.

Olson said removing the fee for all-day kindergarten could help make things more fair for students.

"I believe that it is more equitable," she said. "It is the kind of thing that we hope will provide a smoother transition for families and for students across the board."

The feeling is similar in Farmington.

"We've been talking about all-day kindergarten for a few years now and how we would like to be able to offer that, so it's great this will be funded," Duffrin said. "(All-day kindergarten) will be great for us. I know this is something we wished we could do for a while."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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