Public schools in Ahwatukee Foothills will offer full-day kindergarten next year, even though the state has opted to stop funding the program.
But with less state money coming in for all-day kindergarten students, district and charter schools have to make a choice: figure out a way to continue offering that program with less money, or charge parents for the extended day option to help make up the difference.
Each school is handling the issue differently.
Two weeks ago, the Kyrene School District announced all of its elementary schools would continue offering free full-day programs at an estimated cost of $2.5 million to the district.
All-day kindergarten has been a popular option in Kyrene, with approximately 75 of 77 kindergarten classrooms meeting the entire school day.
It’s too early to see how those numbers will pan out next year, said district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander.
“Prior to the decision, we were receiving daily phone calls asking” about whether all-day kindergarten would be free, Alexander said.
Charter schools are mixed on how they’ll handle full-day kindergarten.
Ahwatukee Foothills Prep will offer a full-day program at no cost. Principal Howard Brown said the school has offered that extended program for six years, as long as the school has been open and before the state started funding it.
“Just the additional time on task and instructional time has made a big difference for kids,” Brown said.
For instance, none of the children who were in Ahwatukee Foothills Prep’s all-day kindergarten program last year were at-risk for being behind their grade level in reading this year, Brown said.
All of the 75 Ahwatukee Foothills Prep students in this year’s kindergarten class are in the full-day program.
“We haven’t had parents come and say: ‘Hey can we do the half-day program?’” he said.
Horizon Community Learning Center, on the other hand, will charge for its extended program.
The half-day program will be free, but students who stay the whole day to add instruction in things like Spanish and technology to the core curriculum will have to pay $2,250 for the year, said school spokeswoman Melissa Hartley.
Horizon is charging because, while districts have options such as overrides to try to make up some of the state funding through voter-approved taxes, charter schools don’t have those sources, Hartley said.
The vast majority of Horizon’s kindergarten class was in the full-day program this year. Only two of the 100 students opted for half-day.
Horizon Executive Director Jan Gleeson said parents choose the school because of the quality programs, but acknowledged some parents could choose a different program due to the cost.
“I wish it was something I didn’t have to think about, but this year I think we’re all thinking a little more about the economy than we would like to,” Gleeson said. “Could it happen? Yes it could. It would be unfortunate. We believe people come here because they want to be here.”
While Keystone Montessori offers a free charter program for grades 1 through 9, it runs its kindergarten as a private program that charges tuition, said Admissions Coordinator Michelle Arndt.
Keystone Montessori also doesn’t offer a half-day program. It is $810 per month for the full-day kindergarten, or $925 per month for the full day, plus day care before and after school.
“We believe it’s important for students to receive the benefit of full-day kindergarten to prepare them for their next educational experience,” Arndt said.