The 2012-2013 school year is already under way for many school districts, and more Hoosier children will be attending full-day kindergarten thanks to an $80 million state funding boost.
Previously, students received $1,234 in funding, but this year they will receive double that, or $2,400 per student.
Documents provided by the Indiana Department of Education show 337 school districts plan to participate in the 2012-2013 full-day kindergarten program.
IDOE spokesperson Alex Damron told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney that 14 additional school districts will be able to offer full-day kindergarten this year because of the funding.
Damron said in 2005-06, 10,247 Hoosier children were supported by the full-day kindergarten grant.
In 2011-2012, that number grew to 66,401.
The $80 million applies to this school year only, according to Damron, and some say the state needs to find a long-term solution to funding full-day kindergarten.
Right now, kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of Indiana.
"I think we need to make full-day kindergarten part of regular school and treat kindergartners as we would 1st through 12th graders, otherwise it's still going to be an add on, it's still going to be a debate every year," said Larry Grau with Democrats for Education Reform. "The data and studies are unequivocal. We do need to have an expansion of early education in Indiana, and I think it's time to make this a priority."
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, introduced legislation this past session that would require mandatory half-day kindergarten, but Education Committee chair Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, did not give the bill a hearing.
"It's not a high priority on my list," said Kruse Thursday. "It's not something that's a major thing for me as a committee chairman, but there's a possibility something could happen (in the upcoming session). We'll just have to see what the proposed bills might look like."
Kruse said he would be open to legislation about fully funding full-day kindergarten, but said that might be better handled by the Ways and Means Committee.
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Eugene White has mixed feelings on whether kindergarten should be mandatory.
"It's hard for me to say that," said White. "For students in urban areas, I think yes. But you have some districts that do not have the facilities to make it mandatory."
IPS heads back to class Aug. 6, and will begin their fifth year of full-day kindergarten.
It costs the school district $8.7 million a year to provide full-day kindergarten, and the district has had to subsidize from Title I (federal) funds.
White told RTV6 the additional state kindergarten grant will free up Title I funds that can be used for preschool programs.
"That's what we're excited about," said White.
White said IPS has seen tremendous improvement in student performance because of full-day kindergarten, including an 11 percent boost in test scores in language arts and math.
Tallian plans to introduce another bill on half-day kindergarten in the upcoming session, but said a bill to make full-day kindergarten mandatory would likely not pass.
Indiana candidate for governor John Gregg does not believe full-day kindergarten needs to be mandatory.
"However, John supports making it available to all Hoosiers at no extra cost," said Daniel Altman, spokesperson for the Gregg campaign. "John is willing to look at fully funding it either through a grant or the school funding formula."
Mike Pence's campaign did not answer whether Pence believes kindergarten should be mandatory.
"Mike Pence's plan accounts for the General Assembly continuing funding for full-day kindergarten in the next budget," wrote Christy Denault, communications director.
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