By William Croyle
Campbell County kindergarteners are getting a leg up on learning with all-day classes, but next year parents will have to pay for it.
Parents in Campbell will pay as much as $500 beginning this fall to send their children to full-day kindergarten in one of the six elementary schools.
The classes, which have been free for the last three years, have become too expensive for the district to pay for alone.
Kentucky schools are facing the reality of shouldering their share of the state's $400 million budget deficit in the next biennium.
"The cost was about $285,000 for kindergarten classes in the district last year," said Diana Heidelberg, associate superintendent of Campbell County Schools. "That's above what the state was funding."
The state pays for half-day kindergarten programs, but not full-day.
Nevertheless, 76 percent of the state's 798 kindergarten classes are all-day programs.
National studies show children are more prepared for first grade and beyond after spending a year in full-day kindergarten instead of half-day classes, Heidelberg said.
"We felt very strongly that it was important to keep the full-day program," said Heidelberg. "We've done a lot of our own research that shows those are the prime years for kids to learn."
Other administrators in the district agree.
"The kids in the all-day program seem to be more ready for first grade," said Grants Lick Elementary School Principal John Schmidt. "They are in the routine of going all day and have had more time to work on the different skills, like reading, writing and arithmetic."
For the 2003-2004 school year, a full-day kindergarten class will cost $500 per child, or $200 for a child whose family qualifies for reduced lunch.
Children of families who qualify for free lunch can attend the full-day program at no charge. Half-day kindergarten classes will also continue to be free.
So far, most Campbell County parents don't seem to mind the fee. Of 301 kids registered to date, 206, or 68 percent, are signed up for the full-day program.
The $500 price tag doesn't bother Becky Alley, whose daughter will attend full-day kindergarten at Alexandria Elementary School next year.
"I would have to pay for a day care or baby-sitter anyway," said Alley. "For me to pay $50 a month is a lot cheaper than day care."
Alley also sees the benefits first-hand. She is a full-day kindergarten teacher in Newport.
"The state expects so much more out of kindergarteners today," she said.
"We teach reading, math, science, social studies, art, music, computers. There is a lot these kids have to do, and I don't know how they do it in a three-hour program."
The first school in the state to implement full-day kindergarten was Liberty Elementary School in Oldham County outside Louisville.
The school has full-day kindergarten only, though parents can choose to take their children out after a half-day and pay nothing. Full-timers pay $300 a year.
"We have 72 kids in kindergarten, and only one chose to be in it a half-day," said Connie Hayes, Liberty principal and president-elect of the Kentucky Association of Elementary School Principals.
Campbell County is believed to be only the second district in Northern Kentucky to start a fee-based program, officials said.
At Woodfill Elementary School in Fort Thomas Independent School District, the cost is as much as $2,000 per pupil, depending on enrollment.
As for Kentucky funding full-day programs, Hayes said it won't happen any time soon.
"It's a revenue issue," she said. "It would take $90 million to fund it. I don't foresee it happening."
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