Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky State Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Local school leaders praised the Kentucky General Assembly’s move Tuesday to provide $140 million for full-day kindergarten next year, though some remain skeptical that lawmakers will continue such funding in future budgets.

Full-day kindergarten was a late addition to a school choice measure passed by the House of Representatives that created education opportunity accounts and offered $25 million in tax credits to donors of groups that award them for five years.

That money can be used by families earning 175% of the federal limit to qualify for reduced-price school meals, or about $86,000 for a family of four in the upcoming school year, on expenses like tutoring, therapies and, in counties with populations of more than 90,000, tuition for private schools. House Bill 563 also requires school districts to adopt nonresident pupil policies and allows state funding to follow such students, winning support from leaders of some independent school districts.

The funding provision for some of Kentucky’s youngest learners was later removed by the Senate in the version of HB 563 that passed the legislature. Lawmakers added $140 million in the upcoming one-year budget for all-day kindergarten in a wide-ranging spending package that passed Tuesday, a day after lawmakers overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of HB 563.

Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Price said offering the “carrot” of full-day kindergarten, which has long been a legislative priority for many education groups, in the debate over HB 563 was “rather absurd.”

Most school districts have already supplemented state funding with their own to provide full-day kindergarten for students. Henry County Public Schools has offered all-day kindergarten for 22 years and will save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in its general fund next school year, Price said.

“I’m used to paying for it, and if it’s going to be funded for one year, leave me out of it,” he said Wednesday.

Oldham County Schools Superintendent Greg Schultz called himself a “skeptic” but not a critic on the possibility of permanent funding for all-day kindergarten, saying he wants lawmakers to provide school districts money for that purpose for more than a year.

“We are a big believer in early childhood education, and so it's a nice gift for them,” Schultz said. “I hope it's a gift that stays for them.”

“If that was a bargaining chip and that was the price that it comes at and that goes away and the tax credit stuff hangs out there, that can be problematic for funding down the road,” he said.

At Oldham County, parents pay $360 per year to send their children to kindergarten for entire school days and the district covers costs for those who cannot afford the extra expense, Schultz said, noting the district spends about $360 per student for full-day kindergarten.

The extra money from Kentucky’s offers for all-day kindergarten may help offset expenses that have been cut from past state budgets, such as textbooks and professional development for teachers, he said.

“I try to remain as optimistic as the next person because this is a great thing for kids,” Schultz said. “… The proof will be in the pudding if the legislature comes back and puts it in the next two-year budget.”

Carlena Sheeran, director of early childhood education at Hardin County Schools, see the legislature’s action Tuesday as “a step in the right direction” in the path toward permanent funding for full-day kindergarten.

In fact, she’s hopeful that lawmakers will go further and provide school districts with money for preschool.

“School doesn't start at kindergarten,” Sheeran said. “Learning starts at birth, and when you really look at where we're going to make the biggest gains, I am a true advocate and truly believe it's going to be with 3- and 4-year-old children coming into preschool. I would love to think that we're making a step towards universal preschool for all 4-year-olds at least.”

Officials like Price, though, are waiting to see whether the legislature will continue to fund full-day kindergarten when lawmakers return to Frankfort next year to craft the next two-year spending plan.

“Right now, I'm not putting a lot of faith in much of what is being passed in Frankfort,” Price said. “… I personally believe that they're going to do what they want to do based on whoever might be lobbying them to do it.”

Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.