Changes brewing for local kindergartners |

Changes brewing for local kindergartners

Scott N. Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyZoe Braun tries her best to get the cap off of a marker to finish her writing assignment. The kindergarden class at Medow Mountain Elementary School is working on stories with a beginning, middle, and end.

EAGLE COUNTY – Kindergarten is about to get a little more like first grade.Students entering kindergarten in the Eagle County School district next fall will attend school all day, five days a week. Some of those students will also start school a little younger than kids the year before, thanks to a change in state law.The biggest change for families is the switch to full-day kindergarten. Because state funding only covers half-day kindergarten, families who want the full-day program now have to pay about $250 per month. Of the kids now enrolled in kindergarten, 254 go full-time, with another 204 enrolled in the half-day program. But there are always more families who want full-day kindergarten than there are classroom seats available, said district spokeswoman Pam Holmes Boyd.With the switch, full-price tuition will drop to $200 per month. Tuition for kids whose families qualify for the reduced-price lunch program will continue to pay $110 per month, and those on the free lunch program will be charged $55.To help cover families’ expenses, the district and the Vail Valley Foundation are funding scholarships. Depending on how the foundation’s fund-raising efforts go, as many as 200 scholarships a year could be provided.Expanding the kindergarten program is part of an effort to get kids a good head start on the rest of their school careers. Studies have shown kids in the all-day kindergarten program perform better as first-graders.While district finance director Karen Strakbein said she estimates 95 percent participation in the all-day classes, a half-day program will still be available, but it will be five days a week in the mornings, and no transportation home will be provided.While district officials say they’re making the change to benefit as many kids as possible, the change won’t come without some controversy.”I’ve already had one parent tell me she didn’t like it,” school board member Mary Ann Stavney said.

“The principals really like the idea,” Strakbein added. “They really want the kids in all day because they do better later on.”Far fewer kids will be affected by the change in state law.That change has set Oct. 1 as the new limit for kids entering kindergarten and first grade, meaning kindergarten students must turn five by Oct. 1 to enroll. First graders must turn six by that date to enroll.The deadline for the past several years has been Sept. 1.’Not what’s best’Other than the change in dates, the state has also virtually eliminated the opportunity for parents of kids born later in the year to apply for a waiver. Children were then tested to see if they were ready for school, but not many passed.The state has essentially taken that option away, Strakbein said.”We’d get state money for the students who were able to test in,” Strakbein said. “That won’t be available next year.” The result, she said, is even students who could test in would be required to pay tuition of as much as $10,000, far more than the price of local private school tuition.

The real complication might come for first graders who transfer in from other districts, Superintendent John Brendza said. Strakbein said that would probably amount to just a handful of kids every year. The district might want to let those few students in to avoid a public relations problem, Brendza said.”But if it’s 30 kids … it becomes a problem,” he said. “What we’re looking at again is the state making decisions, then it’s up to us. It’s not what’s best for kids, it’s about money.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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