New Jersey legislators have signaled their support for the state’s youngest learners by passing a bill to “establish a task force to study issues related to the establishment of full-day kindergarten” (S2763 and A3972). The new task force will examine all aspects of a full-day program, including academic impacts and the feasibility of offering the program statewide.
Education Law Center strongly endorsed the bill as an important first step to ensuring that all New Jersey children are able to enroll in full-day kindergarten. Prior to a vote by the full Senate, the kindergarten bill was introduced in the Senate Education Committee, where ELC Senior Attorney Ruth Lowenkron, testified in support.
Ms. Lowenkron informed the Committee that approximately 25% of New Jersey’s school children are in half-day, rather than full-day, programs. By contrast, ten other states, as well as the District of Columbia, provide full-day kindergarten to all children.
“New Jersey should be a leader in providing universal, full-day kindergarten, rather than a state where children’s entitlement to an education depends on where they live,” Ms. Lowenkron said. “This is especially true since New Jersey is a model for high quality preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.”
ELC’s testimony presented compelling evidence in support of a full-day kindergarten program:
- Children in full-day programs show boosts in cognitive learning and creative problem–solving and show greater reading and mathematics gains than children in half-day programs.
- Full-day kindergarten produces long-term educational gains, especially for low-income and minority students.
- Full-day learning provides social, emotional and intellectual benefits to kindergarteners, facilitates a smooth transition from equally critical high quality preschool, and results in reduced retention and remediation rates.
- Children who attend full-day programs have better attendance in kindergarten and throughout elementary and middle school, and the increased number of hours per day in the classroom enables teachers to better assess the students’ needs for special education or other early intervention.
- Full-day kindergarten assists parents, especially indigent ones, with their child care needs.
- Funds invested in early childhood programs generate returns of 3 to 1 or higher.
- Full-day kindergarten will become increasingly important as New Jersey moves to implement the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards.
Ms. Lowenkron asked the Senate Education Committee to consider expanding the task force to include students and parents, as well as their advocates. In response, Committee Chair Theresa Ruiz amended the bill to ensure that at least one task force member is a parent.
Ms. Lowenkron also assured the Committee that ELC will continue to work in support of full-day kindergarten and would be happy to work with the Task Force to develop an expedited timeframe to expand all programs across the state from half- to full-day, including ensuring the provision of funding through the school funding formula and additional facilities as needed through the State’s school construction program.
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