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


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



Determined Locally













* 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



Determined Locally













* 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

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

  1. Just within the last couple of years. Full day kindergarten has been slowly implemented in the province of Ontario in Canada. This has been met with mixed reviews. Not ony is it costing Ontarians a reported 1.9 billion anually the setup in the classrooms consists of 1 kindergarten teacher and 1 earlychildhood educator to a full room of children. Apparently there is no nap time for the preschoolers and many other bugs and hiccups in this setup. There will also be a lack of 1 on 1 time with the preschool children with so many kids andso few educators in the room.

    • NIEER says:

      While school-day programs can be extremely important in preparing students for elementary school, quality always matters as well. Expanding program enrollment without also increasing the number of well-trained classroom professionals can be short-sighted. Many programs do hit bumps in the road as they move from a small program to being more widely available, but we are optimistic that Ontario and other programs working for full-day kindergarten will address these issues in a way that prioritizes children’s learning.

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