No question, let’s give credit to Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican legislators for proposing to use some of a projected bump in state revenue to increase education funding and expand access to full-day kindergarten.
But let’s stop short of canonizing the governor just yet. Remember that:
— The proposed increase in full-day kindergarten funding – from $58.5 million a year to $81.9 million a year — doesn’t mean the state will cover the entire cost of the program. In some districts, parents will still pay fees.
— The governor and Republican leaders propose increasing total K-12 spending by $150 million over two years. But that’s less than one-fourth of the more than $300 million per year that the governor cut from education spending in December 2009.
— Indiana school corporations will lose tens of millions of dollars as a result of legislation to expand charter schools and implement private-school vouchers. Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, told the New York Times that that the voucher bill alone will cost public schools $92 million.
— Changes being made in the school funding formula mean that growing school districts will see modest increases in state funding, but schools that are losing students may see additional cuts.
Daniels made full-day kindergarten a priority back in 2006, but budget problems kept him from following through. Now, he says, the current proposal will “complete the extension of full day kindergarten (FDK) to every school district in the state.” State Superintendent Tony Bennett says the money will expand FDK to the 25 percent of kindergartners who now don’t have access to it.
But if the task is being completed, that suggests Daniels never intended to fully fund the program.
This year, the state provides $1,030 per student to support full-day kindergarten. Next year that will increase to $1,050 per student, according to an analysis by the Indiana Association of School Business Officials of the proposed Senate budget – which includes the increased full-day kindergarten funding.
That doesn’t come close to covering the difference in cost between half-day and full-day kindergarten – which is why the Monroe County Community School Corp., for example, charges a $1,300 fee for full-day kindergarten to parents who are not low-income.
Finally, even with broadened access to full-day kindergarten, Indiana will remain one of eight states that don’t provide funding for public pre-kindergarten programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.