Full-Day Kindergarten Comes at a Price
While announcing legislation that would “require all public schools systems in the state to provide full-time kindergarten programs,” Sen. Christopher B. Maselli of Johnston offers this bit of manipulative rhetoric:
“It’s incredible how quickly we, as a state, can commit to spend money on new motor vehicle offices and prisons, but we argue about the cost of providing the best educational programs for our youngest children,” said Senator Maselli. “We know that there are positive relationships between full-day kindergarten and later school performance. We know that expanded early learning programs helps with early identification of special needs or learning deficits, which can help children succeed and reduce long-term costs for special and remedial education. And yet the only thing we seem to care about is cost.”
The manipulation comes in the complete removal of any context. Among the RI districts that don’t already offer full-day kindergarten, for example, is North Providence — a district with 3,533 students in the last year for which all relevant data is available, each of whom claimed $11,883 that school year (PDF). That’s a total cost — to the people of North Providence, Rhode Island, and the United States — of $42 million. Every year. Is it really all that incredible that Rhode Islanders might evince some reluctance to push that number closer to the half-a-billion mark?
Moreover, consider that, as Maselli’s own press release acknowledges, some districts offer full-day kindergarten, but with low participation. It may be the case that some place restrictions on enrollment, but it is certainly the case that different districts perceive different needs among their constituents and have different priorities for their resources. Under a mandatory order to provide full-day services, a school would have to pay a teacher whether one student shows up or 20 do. As the above-linked bar chart on school expenditures shows, $6,880 of the $11,883 per-pupil cost in North Providence goes to “instruction.”
Why does the return on investment calculation have to be done in the statehouse? In a state facing systematic financial crises, one straightforward method of controlling costs is to allow local groups to decide that particular programs don’t make sense for them.
Maselli may or may not be seeking to direct more of the funds over which he has partial control toward privileged parties, but the message that Rhode Islanders ought to send is the same either way: stop compounding the money that we are required to spend to advance the consolidation of power in your monolithic and special-interest-controlled government body.