Alison Yin for EdSource
Students in the hallway at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, Calif.

Acting on the notion that full-day early education programs are more effective than half-day ones, in recent years the California Legislature has been nudging school districts to offer full-day kindergarten to all its students. But some districts have run into an obstacle: They don’t have the classroom space they would need to expand the length of time children are in the classroom.

So this year the Legislature has included $100 million in the budget to help districts convert their part-day kindergarten programs into full-day programs. The funds will help school districts that are struggling financially and are located in low-income communities. The money will also help districts that need to add classrooms to accommodate increasing kindergarten enrollment. Schools can use the funding to pay design and construction costs, including landscaping and electric upgrades.

Behind that effort is research that indicates full-day kindergarten programs can help students improve their reading and math skills, if programs are of high quality, according to a 2017 EdSource report.

While substantially more districts are providing full-time kindergarten programs than have previously, California lags behind other states, according to the EdSource report. The report, which cites data from the California Department of Education, states that 70.5 percent of California schools offered full-day kindergarten as of March 2017. In 2001, only 11 percent of kindergartners were enrolled in full-day programs, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a research organization focused on statewide issues.

The $100 million in one-time funding for kindergarten facilities is intended for full-day programs that are more than four hours long. Part-day or half-day kindergarten programs are four hours or less. The funding requires that districts provide a 40 percent local match for grants to renovate existing facilities and a 60 percent match for new construction. The state’s Office of Public School Construction, which administers school facilities programs, will oversee the grant program.

That office will create and review applications before making recommendations to the State Allocation Board, which is in charge of distributing funds to school districts. No deadline has been set for grant applications, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

Schools that offer half-day kindergarten programs typically provide morning and afternoon sessions. These classes often take place in the same room, so in order to extend the kindergarten day, those schools would have to find the space to accommodate a larger number of students during a longer day.

Although schools that receive grants are required to provide matching funds, there will be an exemption for districts that meet the criteria for “financial hardship.” Financial hardship is not clearly defined, but districts will be given priority under two categories: location in a low-income community with limited or no funds to match costs or a large number of students receiving free or reduced-price meals.

In recent years, full-day kindergarten has emerged as a legislative priority. In the 2016 Assembly Blueprint for Responsible Budget Priorities, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, included “implementing all-day kindergarten across California,” as one of six areas of focus. The 2017 blueprint more specifically focuses on expansion of early education programs for all 4-year-olds, including child care programs.

While lack of facilities is certainly an obstacle, it’s difficult to pinpoint how widespread a barrier it is to expanding to full-day kindergarten, said Martha Alvarez, an early education specialist for the Association of California School Administrators, which represents superintendents and other school administrators. For some districts, expansion of kindergarten classes raises staffing concerns since it can require districts to hire new teachers and provide them with additional training.

Another deterrent is that California provides districts with the same amount of funding for part-day and full-day programs, which Alvarez and others say can discourage expansion. Whether or not teachers in California are paid the same for half-day and full-day programs likely depends on the district, said Scott Roark, a spokesman for the California Department of Education. While the department tracks teacher salaries by district, Roark said, it does not track differences in pay based on full-time programs compared to half-day programs.

Some districts, like Clovis Unified, a district in California’s Central Valley, want to expand but don’t have the space. The district has a mix of half-day and full-day programs. Norm Anderson, associate superintendent of school leadership for Clovis Unified said that to provide more full-day kindergarten programs the district would have to build new classrooms and those require specific renovations, such as restrooms. The state requires that all kindergartners have access to bathrooms in the classroom or in the kindergarten classroom area.

At Clovis Unified, an increase in student enrollment and an influx of special education students has made expansion to full-day programs more difficult, district officials said. Steve Ward, legislative analyst for Clovis Unified, said that if the district continues to grow it will need to open at least six new classrooms every year for the next five years to keep pace with expanding programs and an increase in its special education student population.

State investment in facilities is critical, Alvarez said, especially for districts that cannot rely on other means of funding, such as a local bond measure, that can be used to build new schools.

“I believe districts will benefit but the big question is how many of them will,” said Alvarez about the new facilities funding in the state budget. “Districts are facing a lot of financial challenges and for them to even think about a retrofit (renovation) project is difficult. It’s not like districts just have money lying around. They might have reserve funding but need it for computers or something else. There are other cost pressures and needs.”

In the Pittsburg Unified School District, about 30 miles east of Oakland, Deputy Superintendent Enrique Palacios said the district has already demolished and rebuilt several schools and has plans to renovate and build more facilities. Unlike some districts in California, Palacios said, enrollment is increasing. The district currently has only part-day kindergarten programs at its eight elementary schools, but would like to expand to full-day and add the facilities to accommodate more students, he said.

Palacios said the district is fortunate that since 2004 voters have approved local bond measures that have covered the cost of new construction. Of its 13 K-12 schools, six are newly constructed and the district plans to replace four temporary elementary school buildings with permanent ones and, eventually, to expand to full-day kindergarten, he said.

In order to expand, the district would need to hire teachers and that would be a challenge, given the teacher shortage and competitive market, he said. Teachers would also need to agree that a full-day program would be beneficial to kindergartners, Palacios said. The education services division would also need to be involved to help develop a full-day program. “Without facilities we cannot do anything about expansion but in some respect it is the easiest (issue) to address and fix,” he said.

In some larger districts, including San Diego Unified, Fresno Unified and Pasadena Unified, full-day kindergarten programs are already in place and a lack of facilities has not been a barrier to expanding programs, officials said. In other districts, such as Long Beach Unified, there are no plans to implement full-day kindergarten programs, according to Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for the district.

“It’s not a facilities issue for us…that’s been the preference of our kindergarten teachers here, and we have respected that preference,” he said. On occasion, some kindergartners stay for a full day, but it’s usually a smaller group of students so teachers can focus on one-on-one help, he said.

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  1. Lucy Babb 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This article is in favor of full-day Kindergarten, all the measurements are compiling and in favor of academic achievement but one aspect they are failing to state is the real outcomes of Social/emotional development. Not very many TK or 5 year olds students are ready for a full day program. Yes, many are and can be if a parent has supported early learning. The family is the center of the world for a 5 year … Read More

    This article is in favor of full-day Kindergarten, all the measurements are compiling and in favor of academic achievement but one aspect they are failing to state is the real outcomes of Social/emotional development. Not very many TK or 5 year olds students are ready for a full day program. Yes, many are and can be if a parent has supported early learning. The family is the center of the world for a 5 year old. How about parents who have to work for a living not the parent who is on welfare and can afford to volunteer at school because it is mandated for them to have their child enrolled in a state or federal funded program.
    The child is the real objective here. For many children, a program with new systems or ideas can be confusing and cause related social and emotional problems which most teachers are not equipped to handle. The classrooms are impacted and they don’t have or can acquire the means of support from upper admin.
    The available space is a big problem for most districts. Before we get to involved in long-term goals we need to solve the problem of funding new property and schools for most districts. Remember all children develop in different ways and most 5 year olds are ready for academic learning but many are not ready for the pressures of a full day through social and emotional development. Depending on their backround and their exposure to the world outside of their home creates a dilemma and confusion for most 5 year olds who are not equipped for a rigorous new environment.
    We have to remember that all 5 year olds still need their parents and starting school can be a challenge. This article fails to give us statistics on long-term effects concerning social and emotional outcomes. If we’re going to put more money into our children’s future to ensure success, let’s start putting more money into Early Child development by hiring and paying quality teachers to help develop the social and emotional needs for the children in our care. Let’s add full days with an emphasis on social and emotional needs not just academic achievement. We already have a society with ill-equipped adults; let’s start from the bottom up making a whole well-rounded person and that can be done by connecting the academic and social makeup of each child. Let’s start taking the children into consideration first not the funds, or how many programs we can say we have.
    Parents are and should be educated along with the child, and teachers should not have to work under more pressure concerning grades. Emotional and social development and wellbeing should always be first.
    What should be our main focus: scores or improving a child’s life, no matter what length of time they are in school?

  2. Eva Williamson 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Our school district has adopted a hybrid program for our kindergartners. The problem with keeping kindergartners for a regular full day program is that they really start to get tired after about 4 hours. Many of our kindergartners do not attend preschool prior to kindergarten and they are used to napping in the afternoon. Keeping the whole class becomes challenging as the students are tired, cranky, and they need to stay physically … Read More

    Our school district has adopted a hybrid program for our kindergartners. The problem with keeping kindergartners for a regular full day program is that they really start to get tired after about 4 hours. Many of our kindergartners do not attend preschool prior to kindergarten and they are used to napping in the afternoon. Keeping the whole class becomes challenging as the students are tired, cranky, and they need to stay physically active to keep from falling asleep.
    Our school district lets the majority of students go home after 4 1/2 hours, then we keep a smaller group of students for intervention. The intervention groups are very fluid and the teachers determine which students stay on which day based on their needs. This has worked out very well and I do appreciate that the district trusts the teachers to determine how to best put that time to use.
    Instead of investing all that money in full day kindergarten, a far better use of the money would be to invest in universal preschool programs. So many of our students come with no or a very limited English language exposure, very little access to literature, and sadly, many have a severe primary language deficit as well. This means that these kindergarten students not only have to learn a new language, but they have to learn to read and write in this new language as well. For so many students, it means that they have to play catch-up for many years and for most, for the rest of their lives. A strong preschool program with emphasis on oral language production and vocabulary development as well as an opportunity to learn basic concepts about the world could have such a lasting impact on these students’ lives.
    Most of the western world provide daycare and preschool that are free or heavily subsidized where the children are cared for and taught by professional teachers. Since very few parents opt out of enrolling their children in these enriched environment daycare and preschool programs the children from these countries enter kindergarten highly prepared. No wonder American students perform so poorly in tests that compare them with students from other countries. America would get a much higher return on their dollars by investing in universal preschools rather than extending the school-day for all kindergarten students.