Foes of all-day kindergarten vow to keep fighting

Board members to oppose requirement again in 2005

Carroll County

March 25, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Nearly a week after a House committee killed three bills that would have eliminated or delayed the state deadline for enrolling all kindergartners in full-day programs, most Carroll County school board members said yesterday that they will try again next year to roll back what they consider an unreasonable, unfunded mandate.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," school board President C. Scott Stone said in an interview regarding the bills' failure. "The board knew it was an uphill battle, particularly with the state superintendent of schools being opposed to the legislation."

Carroll school officials have been fighting the all-day-kindergarten requirement - part of the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms - for nearly two years. They have argued that most of the school system's kindergartners succeed in half-day programs and that pre-kindergarten testing would help ensure that youngsters who need extra instruction to get them ready for first grade would be enrolled in full-day classes.

The county's education budget would be better spent, they contend, on more pressing concerns than enrolling all children in all-day kindergarten.

"We can still prepare them in half-day kindergarten instead of stripping first through 12th grades to meet the mandate of the state, which fails to look at local jurisdictions on their own merits," board member Susan G. Holt said in an interview after yesterday's board meeting.

With the urging of state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, the House Ways and Means Committee gave the three kindergarten bills "unfavorable reports" last week. That means the proposals will not be forwarded to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

Most disappointing to Carroll school officials was the failure of a bill that would have rolled back state-required full-day kindergarten and given school systems the option of trying for three years their own methods of evaluating which children needed the extra instruction.

Counties that chose to participate in the pilot program would have then submitted to the state education department test results for all kindergartners, assessing whether children in half-day programs were as prepared for first grade as those in all-day programs.

Board member Laura K. Rhodes said school officials "will try one more time" next year to modify the law that requires all kindergartners to be enrolled in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

By the time the next legislative session begins, county leaders seeking to change the kindergarten law will simultaneously be hiring more kindergarten teachers and planning the construction of classrooms that will be needed to offer full-day kindergarten at all 21 county elementary schools.

"We'll definitely have to be making definitive plans at that point," Rhodes said. "You can only do so much for so long."

Holt said lawmakers might be more receptive next year to modifying the kindergarten requirement.

"There was this fear put out there that if the legislation was opened and there were amendments that it would topple the funding," she said, referring to legislators' struggle to find by the end of this legislative session a revenue source to cover the education spending increases called for in Thornton.

Noting that her term on the school board will have expired by the next General Assembly session, Holt said, "Next time, I'll be testifying as a parent. This isn't a fight I'll be walking away from unless the school system decides they don't want it."

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