Hamilton Southeastern among districts taking funding hit for accepting four year old kindergartners

New law impacts early kindergarten admissions

FISHERS -- As students head back to class, school districts in Central Indiana are facing a tough decision when it comes to kindergarten.

A new state law means school corporations take a financial hit of approximately $6,000/student if they accept kindergartners who are not five years old on or before August 1.

Many school districts are not willing to part with that kind of funding, but some say it’s worth it.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools started back to class on August 8, and the district is allowing about 60 students to start kindergarten this school year who are still four years old.

"It will be a $300,000 hit for this year,” said HSE superintendent Dr. Allen Bourff. “We felt we had to provide the kind of support for families who had already made the decision to enroll their children in HSE before the law changed."

Bourff said they are getting a lot of positive feedback about their decision.

“Gratitude is the feedback we’re getting from parents who realize that in some districts their children would not be permitted to attend,” said Dr. Bourff.

But other school districts are not allowing students to attend kindergarten early including Lawrence Township and Wayne Township in Marion County.

Jasmine Edwards thought she would be able to attend kindergarten this school year, but MSD of Wayne Township can’t absorb the funding hit.

Jasmine, who turned five on August 2, is now repeating Pre-K.

Teachers, parents and school administrators are glad Hamilton Southeastern Schools is bucking the trend for the 2018-2019 school year.

“We would much rather have these kids at our school with our teachers each and every day for a full year where they're going to have authentic learning experiences," said Jenifer Ricketts, principal at Hoosier Road Elementary in Fishers.  "They come to school ready, and a lot of them have had pre-school experience. Parents work with them at home, so we work with them where they're at."

Of course, an early start is not for every family.

"If they say you know my kid is not ready, they can wait another year and bring them the next year," said Ricketts. 

As for next school year, Hamilton Southeastern is waiting to see if state lawmakers tweak the law or not.

“We'll have to examine the cost and see what we can afford,” said Dr. Bourff. “I don’t think a blanket provision is good in the sense that all kids are different and unique. We take it case by case.”

Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) is the state lawmaker who pushed for the legislation.

Mishler said the change was put into place to address rising kindergarten enrollment.

“When looking into the increased enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year, one of the main factors was a significant increase in 4-year-old students who were appealing to enroll in kindergarten early and then repeating kindergarten in the next year,” said Mishler in an email to RTV6. “We found that some schools were using this as a kind of state-funded pre-K program, which is not the intent of the school funding formula.”

The change is expected to save $18.5 million next year.

Mishler emphasized it’s still up to the schools to decide if they want to accept a 4-year-old kindergartner.

“Parents can still appeal to the school for their child to attend kindergarten at 4, and it is still the school's decision to accept a student at 4 years old if they believe the child is kindergarten ready,” said Mishler in an email to RTV6.

Senator Mishler said while this is a done deal for the 2018-2019 school year, the legislature can review the issue during the next budget and make any changes if necessary.  

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