School districts in Stoughton, Columbus, Deerfield, Sauk Prairie and Janesville were among 32 statewide named Monday to receive Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction grants to start kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.
But it may not be enough for at least one area district.
Getting 4-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten is a key step to raising student achievement levels and graduation rates, particularly among children from low-income families, national research has shown, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said.
School districts’ efforts to launch 4K programs have been hampered because it takes three years to get full funding for the program under the state’s school-finance system, according to DPI.
That’s what these grants are supposed to address with $3 million announced for 4K programs to start this fall.
Columbus, one of the school districts that qualified for the grant, would get an estimated $62,814 to enroll 87 children this fall.
The good news is that the feds refused to fund the school district’s proposal to revamp the high schools. The plan was wrongheaded in many respects, including its seeming intent to eliminate advanced classes that are overwhelmingly white and mix kids of distressingly varied achievement levels in the same classrooms.
This is a recipe for encouraging more middle-class flight to the suburbs. And, more to the point, addressing the achievement gap in high school is way too late. Turning around a hormone-surging teenager after eight years of educational frustration and failure is painfully hard.
We need to save these kids when they’re still kids. We need to pull them up to grade level well before they hit the wasteland of middle school. That’s why kindergarten for 4-year-olds is a community imperative.
As it happens, state school Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster issued a report last week announcing that 283 of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts now offer 4K. Enrollment has doubled since 2001, to almost 28,000 4-year-olds statewide.
Burmaster nailed it when she cited research showing that quality early-childhood programs prepare children “to successfully transition into school by bridging the effects of poverty, allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain an equal footing with their peers.”
Madison Teachers Inc.’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarten:
For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.
This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.
Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.
Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.
During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district’s 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.
This includes its opposition to collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten, virtual classes and charter schools, all of which might improve the chances of low achievers and help retain a crucial cadre of students from higher-income families. Virtual classes would allow the district to expand its offerings beyond its traditional curriculum, helping everyone from teen parents to those seeking high-level math and science courses. But the union has fought the district’s attempts to offer classes that are not led by MTI teachers.
As for charter schools, MTI has long opposed them and lobbied behind the scenes last year to kill the Studio School, an arts and technology charter that the school board rejected by a 4-3 vote. (Many have also speculated that Winston’s last minute flip-flop was partly to appease the union.)
“There have become these huge blind spots in a system where the superintendent doesn’t raise certain issues because it will upset the union,” Robarts says. “Everyone ends up being subject to the one big political player in the system, and that’s the teachers union.”
MTI’s opposition was a major factor in Rainwater’s decision to kill a 4-year-old kindergarten proposal in 2003, a city official told Isthmus last year (See “How can we help poor students achieve more?” 3/22/07).
Matthews’ major problem with a collaborative proposal is that district money would support daycare workers who are not MTI members. “The basic union concept gets shot,” he says. “And if you shoot it there, where else are you going to shoot it?”
At times, Matthews can appear downright callous. He says he has no problem with the district opening up its own 4K program, which would cost more and require significant physical space that the district doesn’t have. It would also devastate the city’s accredited non-profit daycare providers by siphoning off older kids whose enrollment offsets costs associated with infants and toddlers.
“Not my problem,” Matthews retorts.