Gov. Mitch Daniels boasted today that he has achieved full funding for full-day kindergarten. Perhaps if you say something enough times, you can convince people it's true, but the legislation just approved by the Indiana General Assembly still shortchanges students and schools.
A news release from the governor's office cites "completing full funding for full-day kindergarten" as well as passing a right to work law and preserving a taxpayer refund, as topping Daniels' list of successes for the just-ended session.
But as Niki Kelly reports here the additional $80 million for FDK approved by the General Assembly last week pushes the per-student average grant to about $5,100 per student. In Fort Wayne Community Schools, full-funding amounts to $5,995 per student, leaving a gap of about $895 per student. With more than 2,400 kindergarteners enrolled, that's a state funding shortfall of more than $2.1 million. It's better than the current $4.4 million gap, but it's clearly misleading to boast of fully funding FDK.
Moreover, state officials can't honestly claim they fully fund the program until they approve a two-year budget that counts a kindergarten student as a full student, not the half-student each counts for in the average daily membership count. As long as it takes an FDK grant to make up the difference, there's no full funding for full-day kindergarten.
FWCS officials are convinced the value of full-day instruction is worth the investment, so they've moved general fund money from other areas to pay for it since 2007, with academic results to back up the investment. Other districts, however, have asked parents to cover the difference in cost, inevitably leaving some children without full-day instruction. Under the increased grant approved last week, schools won't be allowed to charge parents for full-day kindergarten.
Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, credits Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, and Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, for the additional funding. Both began talking about additional money for full-day kindergarten as soon as the administration's accounting error was revealed and an additional $310 million became available.
Costerison said the increased grant will cover the full cost of FDK for some districts. He also noted that it's been decades since any additional funding was approved for schools during a short session.
Kudos to the legislators who made it happen.