These Hours Were Made For Learning: State Pre-K Operating Schedules

September 21, 2012

© NIEER

Last week we wrote about changes in schedules for kindergarten classes, noting that some states and school districts are scaling back from full-day to half-day programs to stretch tight budgets further. This week we’re taking a look at pre-K programs and their operating schedules, using longitudinal data from our State Preschool Yearbook report series.

Like their counterparts in kindergarten, preschoolers may be in full- or half-day programs, depending on the state or school district in which they live. Indeed, most state-funded preschool programs (55 percent in the 2010-2011 school year, as seen in Figure 1) do not have a state policy on the length of the program day, leaving this decision up to local school districts. Of the remaining state programs, 24 percent have a state policy dictating a part-day program while another 22 percent require full-day programs.

Figure 1. Operating schedule policy by program

Program Year

Part-day

Full-day*

Determined Locally

2010-2011

24%

22%

55%

2009-2010

23%

21%

56%

2008-2009

20%

20%

61%

* Programs that report “school day” are included in “full-day” in these figures, resulting in some rounding errors.

Since the 2008-2009 school year, the percent of state programs requiring full-day pre-K programs has increased steadily. Still, an increase in the percentage of states with full-day pre-K policies isn’t the full story. As we’ve noted before, state pre-K programs are far from uniform, with some enrolling only 1 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds and others enrolling upwards of 70 percent of the preschool-age population. As a result, when we look at the percent of children enrolled in state-funded pre-K, as we do in Figure 2, we see a very different story.

Figure 2. Operating schedule by student*

Program Year

Part-day

Full-day**

Determined Locally

2010-2011

52%

41%

6%

2009-2010

50%

42%

8%

2008-2009

50%

43%

7%

* Out of those children whose schedules can be reported.  In the 2010-2011, 75% of state-funded pre-K students can be reported by schedule (995,707 of the 1,323,128 served); in the 2009-2010 year, 62% (or 797,235 out 1,292,310). In 2008-2009, this was 63% (763,560 out of 1,216,077). Notably, California was unable to report its large enrollment by schedule during the 2008-2009 year.** Programs that report “school day” are included in “full-day” in these figures, resulting in some rounding errors.

More than half of the children enrolled in state-funded pre-K during the 2010-2011 school year can be found in part-day classrooms, up two points from the both of the previous program years. While this may sound like a small difference, in reality it means a difference of tens of thousands of children.

And, looking at media reports for the current school year, we fear that some states and school districts may be tilting the scale further toward increased numbers of children enrolled in part-day, rather than full-day, programs. For instance, Texas school districts in the past funded full-day pre-K classes by supplementing the state-funded part-day program, but the grants many districts used to do so were removed from the state’s 2012-2013 budget. Some districts are working to maintain full-day programs but will require parents to pay tuition as a result.

We are still collecting data on the 2011-2012 school year for The State of Preschool 2012, and we’ve worked to modify our questions regarding operating schedules to get even more precise data. Stay tuned for more when that report is published this spring. In addition, look out for the findings to be released from our colleagues on a study of half-day vs. full-day programs in Chicago preschools.

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


Back to School: Shrinking Kindergarten Days

September 11, 2012

© NIEER

It’s that time of year again when the weather starts to feel crisper and the kids are donning backpacks to head to a new year of school. But what kind of classrooms are they going back to this year? Unfortunately, with budgets stretched thinner and thinner, many schools are forced to make significant cuts. In the earliest grades, which are often seen as not yet “real” school, these are even more apparent. For instance, many states are scaling back on the length of the kindergarten day to lower costs.

As a Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) report shows, most states don’t have a state-level requirement for the provision of kindergarten or they only require a half-day program.  However, it’s clear that states without a statutory requirement for kindergarten are leaving it on the chopping block year after year. Two big culprits with a lot of media coverage are New York and Pennsylvania where several districts cut back on their full-day programs, and even more considered cuts that were eventually avoided.

In New York, media reports that both Poughkeepsie and East Ramapo scaled back full-day kindergarten to a half-day.  Although CDF reports that New York school districts can apply for one-time funding to expand from a half-day to full-day kindergarten program, it’s clear from these district-level cuts that the funding structure is not helping programs sustain full-day kindergarten in the long run. As one article on the New York situation notes: “Even though every regular public school system in New York has at least a half-day kindergarten program, it’s not a requirement for a district to have one. When districts are forced to cut programs to come under the new tax-levy cap or are faced with massive expenses and irate taxpayers, any nonrequired program is fair game, educators said.”

After contentious budget debates, Pennsylvania level-funded the Accountability Block Grant, which is frequently used to fund additional pre-K and kindergarten slots throughout the state. As a result, school districts had to make tough decisions.  In the face of a budget shortfall and no additional aid from the state, Manheim Township in Lancaster County put on hold their plans for full-day kindergarten. Allentown kept the full-day schedule for kindergarten classes but cut locations, resulting in only 250 kindergarten-age children being served compared to 800 in the previous year. And, in Harrisburg, kindergarten continues to operate only because of the generous support from the Harrisburg Public School Foundation after the school budget dropped the grade completely.

New York and Pennsylvania aren’t the only states faced with these challenges but they illustrate the problem. The White House has also been concerned about the scaling back of program schedules as one of a number of cost-saving measures in school, with their recent Investing in Our Future report looking at cut backs from full-day to half-day kindergarten programs.

At a time when schools and teachers are being asked to do more with less, the most likely result is that less really is less, despite the need for more.  Schedules are cut despite a sense among teachers and parents that kindergarteners need a full-day program; as one New York state kindergarten teacher put it, “We’re expecting a lot more of our children today. When you’re trying to deliver all the requirements children need to be successful in 2 ½ hours that can be stressful on not only the children, but the teachers too.” Teachers are still obligated – and are dedicated – to do as much as possible to help children start off on the right foot in their academic career but with literally less time in the day to do so, they face a real challenge.

We find that, generally, the public is surprised by cuts to kindergarten; we so frequently talk about K-12 schools that people assume kindergarten is protected just like any other grade in elementary school and beyond. If you are a teacher or a parent, what trends have you seen in this new school year? Have kindergarten programs been cut in your district?

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER


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