Pritzker, Rauner split on free full-day kindergarten, and so are suburban schools

Pritzker, Rauner are split on it, and so are suburban schools

  • Hawthorn Elementary kindergarten teacher Abby Udelhofen, right, has a book discussion with students Kelly Shields and Makai Brewster Wednesday at the Elmhurst school.

      Hawthorn Elementary kindergarten teacher Abby Udelhofen, right, has a book discussion with students Kelly Shields and Makai Brewster Wednesday at the Elmhurst school. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Hawthorn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Abby Udelhofen works at a reading center with students Wednesday in Elmhurst.

      Hawthorn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Abby Udelhofen works at a reading center with students Wednesday in Elmhurst. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/22/2018 1:31 PM
To correct a story in Sunday's news section, no tuition is charged for full-day kindergarten in Lombard Elementary District 44. The error occurred as a result of incorrect information.

Kindergartners learn their ABCs and how to count up to 100 during a full-day program in Addison Elementary District 4 provided free.

A few miles west, however, St. Charles Unit District 303 parents pay tuition for an optional full-day kindergarten. Skip over to Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 and kindergartners attend a half-day program despite interest in all-day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That statewide hodgepodge of standards has surfaced as a divide in the gubernatorial race, with Democrat J.B. Pritzker advocating for free full-day kindergarten in public schools across Illinois while Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wants school districts to decide.

An informal Daily Herald survey of 31 suburban public school districts found 61 percent offer free full-day kindergarten compared to 19.4 percent charging tuition and 19.4 percent providing half-day programs.

Tuition rates range from $2,025 in St. Charles Unit District 303 to $3,500 in Barrington Area Unit District 220 and $4,000 in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.

Illinois law does not require children to attend kindergarten, but districts must offer at minimum a half-day program. About 79 percent of kindergartners statewide are in full-day classes, and research shows those children perform better in reading, mathematics and social studies, said Lisa Hood, a senior policy analyst at Illinois State University's Center for the Study of Education Policy.

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Full-day kindergarten "should be provided free," Chicagoan Pritzker, a businessman and Hyatt hotel heir, told the Daily Herald Sept. 26.

"It's almost embarrassing for the state that we don't recognize kindergarten as a grade that should be funded in public education. Kindergarten is vitally important, and so is preschool," he said.

"We have all the science," Pritzker added. "It's not just a 'nice' to have; it's a 'need' to have."

Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist, called himself a "strong advocate for more funding for schools ... for education," at a Monday press event.

Asked about free, full-day kindergarten, the governor said, "I want choices for early childhood education, for kindergarten and preschool -- and to have the money available for every parent to be able to choose and every school to be able to run their school districts as they choose."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rauner criticized Pritzker for not offering specifics on how to pay for his kindergarten plan. Despite a new school funding program that Rauner said is generating "record funding," several local districts reported they want to offer full-day kindergarten but can't afford it under the status quo.

Arlington Heights District 25 provides full-day kindergarten for English-learner and special education pupils, but most students attend half-day. Offering full-day is an expensive proposition requiring a minimum of 20 more teachers and 18 more classrooms, officials concluded in August 2017 after an extensive study with community input.

"The research we found showed that there was no current measurable long-term achievement benefits for full-day kindergarten over half-day kindergarten for typical learners," communications coordinator Adam Harris said.

For Elmhurst parents, all-day kindergarten is a "top priority," District 205 Superintendent David Moyer said. Now it's in the hands of voters with a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asking if property taxes should be increased to pay for building improvements that include classroom space for full-day kindergarten.

"It can be challenging to meet the needs of today's children in a half-day model," Moyer said, noting that seven out of eight peer unit districts have full-day kindergarten. "Elmhurst is rapidly becoming an outlier, and I am hopeful that we can address the space considerations through this referendum process."

A child enrolled in an enriching full-day kindergarten that combines social and emotional learning as well as traditional skills "stands to significantly improve their likelihood of thriving," pediatrician and author Laura Jana said.

Kids whose parents can't afford tuition shouldn't be left out, she said.

"It's not just a matter of the ones who pay for it get it, and the ones who don't, don't," said Jana, a member of the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics. "If you want to talk about all kids maximizing their potential, it starts with that access."

Bensenville District 2 started full-day kindergarten in the 2009-2010 year.

"Shortly after the switch, our first-grade teachers began commenting how much progress they could see in their students compared to prior years with half-day kindergarten," Community Relations Coordinator Tim Waldorf said.

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