Hundreds of Mid-Columbia kindergartners will spend more time in the classroom this next school year thanks to state lawmakers.
Twelve schools in the region are eligible for state money for full-day kindergarten programs starting this fall. The money was provided as part of a delayed state budget that pumps an additional $1 billion into K-12 education.
Tri-City school officials said the late decision has led to a rush to get the schools ready to have kindergarten students all day rather than for half-day sessions.
However, they said the move is a positive one and will go far in better preparing students for the rest of their education.
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"We're always excited to be able to expand and enhance educational opportunities for our students," said Leslee Caul, spokeswoman for the Pasco School District.
The state is under pressure to conform to a Washington Supreme Court order to fully pay for K-12 education by 2018. Providing full-day kindergarten is part of that order and the state allocated almost $90 million to provide full-day instruction for 44 percent of the state's kindergartners in the next biennium.
Some schools in the region already offer all-day kindergarten. For schools that don't, the first priority for establishing new all-day programs will go those with the highest number of students receiving free or reduced price meals.
In the Mid-Columbia, that means schools with at least 60 percent or more of students from low-income families are eligible for the money. It is up to individual districts to meet the state's requirements, including developing an appropriate curriculum and providing standardized test results to measure progress.
The change won't result in schools having more students but it does create the need for more classrooms, teachers and supplies to accommodate having kindergartners in class longer.
Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District, said Vista, Washington and Canyon View elementary schools will have four full-day kindergarten classrooms each.
That means the district will have to hire six new teachers. Workers also installed two portable classrooms at each school at a cost of about $100,000 each.
Schools also have to factor in the logistics of having kindergarten students for longer during the day, meaning they'll use libraries, gyms, cafeterias and other common spaces more.
"You're not adding gym space, you're not adding cafeteria space," Cooper said.
Richland's Jefferson Elementary School qualifies for all-day kindergarten as do five Pasco schools -- Rowena Chess, Emerson, Longfellow, Robert Frost and Mark Twain.
However, four of the Pasco schools don't have kindergarten classes because their students attend Captain Gray Early Learning Center, which already offers all-day classes.
Mark Twain Elementary School, however, will have full-day kindergarten. Caul said portables won't be needed at the school to meet the need for classrooms, but a portable cafeteria was added to the school last year in anticipation of the change.
"We've been prepping and planning for this for a while," she said.
Outside of the Tri-Cities, Prosser Heights Elementary in Prosser, Columbia Elementary in Burbank and Kiona-Benton City Elementary in Benton City also qualify for full-day kindergarten, according to a state report.
And while knowing the state was going to provide money for more full-day kindergarten programs earlier in the summer could have helped with finding space and hiring teachers, school officials said its still a big step forward.
Cooper said studies show that increased classroom time for young students means they're more likely to succeed in the rest of their education.
"This is a wonderful opportunity as we double the classroom learning time for these young children," Jefferson Elementary Principal Bobbi Buttars said in a release. "I look forward to watching them grow in a full-day program."