K-12 EDUCATION

Full-day kindergarten is here in Utah, but should it replace child care?

Oct 2, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2023, 2:39 pm

Kindergarten...

North Star Elementary School kindergarten student Xander raises his hand in class in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Should full-day kindergarten be used in place of child care now that federal funding is expiring?

During the 2023 legislative session, the Utah Legislature passed HB 477, “Full Day Kindergarten Amendments.” Every school district in Utah now has a full-day kindergarten option. In fact, nearly 8,000 of the littlest Utahns finished their first year of full-day kindergarten classes in August.

With the expiration of a $24 billion federal COVID-19 pandemic support program, more than 70,000 child-care programs nationwide are projected to close. About 3.2 million children could lose their spots due to the end of the child-care stabilization grant program Sept. 30, according to an analysis by The Century Foundation and reported by CNN.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which Democrats passed in March 2021, supported more than 220,000 child-care programs, affecting as many as 9.6 million children, according to the federal Administration for Children & Families.

The federal funding kept many child-care centers afloat during the past two years.

Full-day kindergarten in Utah

Christine Elegante, K-3 literacy specialist for the Utah State Board of Education, joins Dave & Dujanovic to discuss expanding full-day kindergarten as an alternative to child care.

Last year, the state added 314 new full-day kindergarten classes, she said, which provided about 46% of students access to kindergarten.

This year, Elegante said, the funding for kindergarten is through the WPU  (Weighted Pupil Unit).

“That means that funding is allocated to kindergarten just like it is in grades one through 12,” Elegante said. “If they attend full day, they get the full funding. And with that addition, we were anticipating adding another 410 full-day kindergarten classes.”

No tuition now

The change to funding through the WPU is much different from previous years.

“There were areas, pockets in this state last year and in previous years that were charging tuition to offset the cost of being able to provide” full-day kindergarten, she said.

She added the demand for full-day was underestimated by local school districts and charter schools.

Elegante said the state was anticipating that 68% of students would want access to full-day kindergarten. That number is closer to 70% to 72%, she said, adding the exact number won’t be known until the official count is performed at the end of October.

A lot of parents started with the half-day option but have since switched to full-day, she said.

“The parents went ahead and have made that transition and said ‘Hey, you know what, we weren’t quite sure about this full-day kindergarten option, but what we’re seeing and what our child is experiencing, we’re excited. Let’s go ahead and let’s just leave them there full day.”

Elegante said the options for parents vary across the state. Some schools have half-day kindergarten available if the enrollment numbers support it. Others have only full-day; the parents pick up their children halfway through the full-day class. And some areas offer both.

“It’s very different across the state just depending on where you live and whether the schools have room for full-day kindergarten, whether the community wanted it. So there are a lot of variables in it,” she said.

Children can attend kindergarten in Utah if he or she is 5 years old by Sept. 1, she said.

Related: 

Kindergarten classes get more access to all-day learning

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Full-day kindergarten is here in Utah, but should it replace child care?