Kindergarten: Pay to Play (and learn)

February 12, 2009 at 6:28 am 2 comments

One of the new trends brewing in north side elementary schools is the request that parents foot the bill if they want full day Kindergarten for their kids.

From conversations I’ve had, most people initially find this shocking and appalling.  So a bit background as to how this has come about:

CPS, as a school district, is required to provide HALF-DAY Kindergarten for all kids (although it is not mandatory for kids to attend Kindergarten.)  The district will provide a teacher for every 56 kids who enroll in Kindergarten at their neighborhood school, which means that one teacher will have a morning and afternoon class of 28 kids each.

Each school gets money called Discretionary Funds that is largely tied to the number of low-income students in the school.  It is something like $720 per child.  So some of the over-crowded school that are all low-income could be getting a three-quarter million dollars each year to help beef up their school, whereas schools with few low-income kids get much less, more like $150K.  These funds are usually used to “buy” things like teaching positions to keep classroom ratios down, teachers for enrichment classes, assistant principals, and workbooks and supplies.

Since CPS has been largely low-income so far, nearly every school has used their discretionary funds to buy an extra Kindergarten teacher so they can provide full day Kindergarten.  However as certain schools lost low income students when neighborhoods gentrify, they see these funds shrink and can no longer afford the extra K teacher/s at a cost of about $70-$85K each (this includes their pension, benefits, etc.)

The simple solution is to just offer half-day Kindergarten.  Many suburbs do this and their kids clearly turn out fine.   In Chicago, however, there seems to be a greater interest in a full day program.  Maybe there are more working parents, maybe we’re just used to everyone else getting full-day.  Who knows?   So where will the money come from?

At Blaine this year, parents were required to raise the money to fund the full day program (the school may have kicked in a little $, I’m not sure.)  I believe Alcott does the same.  This allows the kids to stay the full 6-ish hours and participate in art, music, gym, etc that they wouldn’t get otherwise and also gives them more learning time and play time.  The hard part is that people cannot be required to pay, so the families who do participate may need to cover for the families who can’t/won’t.    Families could end up paying from $1000 – $2000 per year for full-day Kindergarten, which really isn’t a bad deal if you break it down hourly.  It’s just the principle of the matter that bothers people.

Part of the unfairness of the situation is that Magnet, Gifted, and Classical programs automatically get full day Kindergarten, once again putting the neighborhood schools at a disadvantage (but that is a whole other rant.)

CPS is working on setting up an automatic payment system that is similar to the one used in the tuition-based pre-schools.  Which can only be a sign that this will become more widespread.

So despite the objections, I don’t see it as unfair.  The state is kicking in extra money for low income kids, and families who can afford it will be kicking in their own share.

Ultimately, it just makes the school decision process more complicated.  What if your neighborhood school only offers half-day and you want full-day or vice versa and you’re asked to pay for full-day when you don’t even want it?  Make sure you ask the questions when you’re touring schools.

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Entry filed under: Kindergarten. Tags: .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Meg  |  February 16, 2009 at 12:38 am

    My daughter went to Beaubien, an neighborhood school with a separate gifted program, and it had no gifted kindergarten at all, much less a full day one. Apparently, the principals can choose how to spend their discretionary funds if they are a neighborhood school with a gifted program. This school probably gets plenty. It has a high population getting free/reduced price lunch.

  • 2. Michelle  |  February 20, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Just happened upon your blog. We are in the Kindergarten decision trenches right now. Private/Public, the whole nine yards. I saw that you turned down Stone, but what school did you eventually end up choosing for your kid? If you already talked about it on the blog, just point me in the right direction. Thanks! (I’ll be glad when this part is over and we just know where we are going. *sigh*)

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