Wallingford’s Board of Education, on November 25, voted to approve a plan to adopt full-day kindergarten and expand preschool programs. The superintendent estimated the plan would cost $1.3 million, but it could cost less. The vote was 6-2. This divided vote, concessions by some board members that the matter may have been rushed, and statements by councilors and the mayor that reveal reservations about the plan, mean that all-day kindergarten in Wallingford has an uncertain future.
We recently ended an election season where a big issue was whether Wallingford residents were over taxed or reasonably taxed. Neither side of the aisle said where they stood on all-day kindergarten, even though the issue had been brewing for months.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that some officials may suggest to tax hawks not to worry just yet because it’s just a proposal that may be diluted or killed, while offering hopes to parents that this could get done, if not soon, then when the town’s finances sufficiently improve ... if that ever happens.
Our public officials are right, nevertheless, to this extent: Money matters. If expanded pre-school and all-day kindergarten cost $1.3 million, that would require a tax increase for Wallingford residents of about 1/3 of a mill. The impact of that cost on the owner of a house valued at $225,000 would be about $50 extra in taxes. Is the proposed new program worth it?
Across the state, opinion is divided, but increasingly residents, especially parents and teachers, think all-day kindergarten and expanded pre-school are worth it. Connecticut has about 164 schools districts. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 73 of them offer full-day kindergarten to all children; 29 districts offer full-day kindergarten to some children; and 13 districts offer extended-day kindergarten to all children.
Some like all-day kindergarten because they fervently believe these early education programs increase the chances of lasting academic achievement. The problem for a public official who has to decide the issue is that this conclusion is hard to demonstrate with data and research. The school administration in Wallingford advised the school board on Monday that Hanover Research of Washington, a source it regarded as authoritative, concluded that findings on this point are inconclusive. Hanover Research wrote, “Unfortunately, despite the great amount of research and literature devoted to the subject, there is no clear cut consensus regarding the long-term effects of full-day versus half-day kindergarten.”
Hanover Research also said, however, that children in kindergarten do benefit academically in the short term. It concluded that research shows “solid benefits” across the kindergarten year. It reported, moreover, that full-day kindergarten does “assist students in acclimating to the school environment and can therefore set students up for success in school.”
Aside from academic achievement, all-day kindergarten can have far-reaching benefits, according to Hanover Research. It concluded, for example, that all-day kindergarten can improve a child’s social, emotional, and behavior development, but research is of “mixed opinion regarding the longevity of these effects.”
The decision on what to do and when to do it may turn on the impacts all-day kindergarten have on moms and dads. One view is that their interests aren’t relevant. According to this perspective, in the absence of data demonstrating a long-term academic benefit from all-day kindergarten, no more money should be spent on these programs. The criticism is that they are publicly funded daycare. Although “daycare” is a consequence of the board’s plan, the interests of families in all-day kindergarten are important, nevertheless.
The decision of whether to spend money on all-day kindergarten, therefore, is a blend of considerations: How important is all-day kindergarten for Wallingford’s children and their families, balanced against the cost to taxpayers. For those in Wallingford, that blend is always up for fair discussion. It’s a matter of achieving the quality of community life we can afford, and value for each tax dollar.
It’s a close call but, on balance, we should go for it.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”