Where is Compulsory Kindergarten? | K-12 school

Kindergarten values ​​go far beyond learning early academic skills. Children also develop cognitive, physical, and social and emotional skills, such as problem solving, sharing, and making friends.

“I saw the social aspect of kids alongside other kids and learned all the skills I feel we need to be successful adults,” said Gracie Branch, executive director of the professional learning association at the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “Especially with children who are at home and quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic, some skills that we previously took for granted now really need to be taught to children.”

Most states require school districts to offer full or half day kindergarten, but less than half actually mandate student attendance. California was the most recent state to propose legislation requiring kindergarten registration, but the law was vetoed in September 2022 by Governor Gavin Newsom, who factored in cost.

Early childhood enrollment has decreased significantly due to COVID-19. From 2019 to 2020, enrollment of kindergarten children in public schools fell by 9%, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Education Statistics. However, those numbers have started to recover, with enrollments increasing by 5% in the fall of 2021 over the previous year.

Where is Kindergarten Required?

Nineteen states, plus Washington, DC, require children to attend kindergarten, according to the latest data from the United States Commission on Education, an agency that tracks education policy. The map below shows each state’s kindergarten attendance policy.

There are exceptions to this policy. In states like Louisiana and Nebraska, for example, children can skip kindergarten if they are able to demonstrate readiness through assessment before entering first grade.

New Jersey, on the other hand, has district requirements rather than statewide mandates. Children are required to attend full day kindergarten in the state’s 31 School Development Authority Districts, formerly known as Abbott districts – a group of school districts in low-income areas that receive designated state assistance.

But experts say it’s not enough for states to simply mandate attendance.

“Just because you mandate kindergarten doesn’t mean it’s going to be the quality, beautiful, genuine, and fun experience for young children it should be,” Branch says. “You need to make sure you provide the funds to have the best resources, including teachers who know about child development and can provide a quality experience for students. Because it’s difficult to ask for something new and then not put the money and resources behind it.”

However, funds for kindergarten programs are not always available in every county or state. Some states fund kindergarten in the same way as other classes, while others only provide funding for half-day kindergarten programs, according to New America, a public policy organization.

“Until we, as a country, understand this idea of ​​investing in our children then we can start more dynamic conversations about what works and what doesn’t so the playing field is really that education is the best balancer,” said Maria Armstrong, executive director of the Association of Latino Administrators and Supervisors. “We’re seeing too many communities where that isn’t happening. So if we mandate kindergarten, it needs to be equally funded to be able to thrive.”

Kindergarten Admission Requirements

Requirements vary by district or state. But to enroll in kindergarten, children usually have to turn 5 before the deadline – usually between July and September.

As well as ensuring residency and a minimum age, “kids who want to come to kindergarten, can come to kindergarten” in public schools, Branch said. Private schools, on the other hand, may have different requirements, including screening or grading.

Public schools may also hold screenings, but “that’s not to keep students out,” he said. “Mainly they are to gauge where the student is at their skill level to ensure that their teacher knows where the child is progressing.”

Parents who believe their child is not developmentally ready can choose to “red shirt” or delay kindergarten entry for one year, or enroll their child in a transitional kindergarten, which provides a bridge between home or preschool and school. basis, if offered.

Half Day Kindergarten vs. Full Day

Forty-one states plus Washington, DC, require districts to offer some type of kindergarten, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In 21 states, districts are only required to offer half-day programs.

A common argument against full day kindergarten is that a full day of school is too much for young children to handle. But experts say that, although curricula vary, children in full-day kindergarten programs have more time to play and participate in enrichment activities such as music or physical education, while half-day programs may be slightly more academically focused because of time. limited. .

Perhaps more importantly, the half-day program “is grossly out of sync with the needs of most working families,” said Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning at The Hunt Institute, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that aims to improve education policy. “Accommodating two and a half hours (days) of school is really a challenge for most working families. And in states that haven’t mandated full day programs, that may actually be a barrier keeping some kids from participating meaningfully in kindergarten.” child.”

One study found that children who took a full-day program performed better on achievement tests at the end of the school year than children who only took a half-day program.

But full-day kindergarten is only mandatory in 17 states and Washington, DC, according to data from the United States Commission on Education. And that often comes at a heavy price for parents – even in some public schools – for a lack of state funding.

The Timberlane Regional School District in New Hampshire, for example, charges $4,500 in 2021-2022 for a full day of kindergarten. Private school fees can be much higher. Moravian Academy in Pennsylvania, for example, is charging $24,128 in 2022-2023 for a kindergarten on its downtown campus.

Financial aid and scholarships may be available to families to cover some or all of the kindergarten fees.

Several districts and states have in recent years moved toward eliminating kindergarten fees. Denver Public Schools, a district that previously charged tuition based on income, announced that all-day kindergarten will be free for families starting 2019-2020.

“There are big questions around the equity of full-day kindergarten,” Wuori said. “Many states that operate half-day programs provide parents, in excess of tuition fees, the opportunity to extend it to a full day. In that case, it makes it more likely that affluent families will access full-day programs than the children who may need them the most.” and benefit from the program.”