TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls elementary schools want to offer all-day kindergarten to more students, but finding money to pay for it isn’t easy.

The Twin Falls School District only gets enough state money for half-day classes, but some children need extra help. And Idaho is among only six U.S. states where students aren’t even required to attend kindergarten.

But research shows many benefits to all-day kindergarten, including increased academic achievement and positive effects on emotional and social development.

In past years, “we’ve had full-day kindergarten at some of the schools,” Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said. “We’ve been able to cobble together some money.”

Now, of Twin Falls’ nine elementary schools, there’s only full-day kindergarten for some students at Lincoln Elementary School.

Educators are seeing big academic gains at Lincoln.

“The results are stunning at how well the kids are doing, when measured by the IRI, the Idaho Reading Indicator,” Dobbs said.

Trying to launch all-day kindergarten offerings is an ongoing discussion, elementary programs director Teresa Jones said.

It’s possible some schools may launch all-day kindergarten next school year, Dobbs said. But they wouldn’t necessarily be available to all students. The decision will be left up to individual schools, depending on their students’ needs.

“Right now, we have a lot of principals trying to think outside the box to see how they can financially support all-day kindergarten,” federal programs director Bill Brulotte said.

Options include grant money, asking parents to pay or using state literacy money.

Parents: If you’re interested, contact your child’s school or keep an eye on school newsletters. Rock Creek Elementary School has already surveyed parents this spring.

Lincoln Elementary has had all-day kindergarten for 12 years. It was initially paid for using a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant and with Title I funds for the last seven years. 

There are two full-day sessions, accommodating a daily average of 46 students. It’s only for children who are struggling academically. Once students reach grade level proficiency, they’re transitioned out.

Among all Lincoln kindergartners this fall — not just in full-day kindergarten — 42 percent tested at benchmark on the IRI. But by this winter, that climbed to 90 percent.

Murtaugh School District has also seen benefits of all-day kindergarten. It has offered it for 23 years, “way before it was the thing to do,” Superintendent Michele Capps said.

It’s paid for using the district’s regular budget. With only one kindergarten class, it means paying for a full-time kindergarten teacher instead of part-time.

Even during tough budget years, “we’ve never given it up,” Capps said.

Murtaugh also offers preschool for 4-year-olds using grant money.

When the district started all-day kindergarten, the purpose was to help English language learners. “At the time, we were having a lot of Spanish-speaking kids come in,” Capps said.

Plus, many parents were working outside Murtaugh, making the half-day kindergarten schedule problematic.

What are the results of all-day kindergarten? “Students are just more prepared,” Capps said. By the end of October each school year, most children are reading.

With a half-day class, she said, it’s a rush to meet students’ basic needs.

But offering all-day kindergarten in Murtaugh is a different scenario than bigger districts. There are fewer than 400 students in Murtaugh from preschool through 12th grade — compared to about 9,300 in Twin Falls.

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In past years, a handful of Twin Falls schools have offered all-day kindergarten. “We’ve seen such good results when we’ve been able to fund that,” Dobbs said.

I.B. Perrine Elementary School had a program paid for by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.

And full-day kindergarten continued for a couple of years after funding dried up, thanks to parents paying for it. But now, it doesn’t have that offering.

Twin Falls school officials say they’d rather see state money appropriated for all-day kindergarten before preschool.

Without all-day kindergarten classes, it’s “so hard to get students to proficiency,” Jones said.

And without state money, Twin Falls schools are looking at other funding options.

One possibility is using state literacy money. State legislators appropriated $9.1 million to help elementary schoolers who score below grade level on the Idaho Reading Indicator.

It’s the first year of the funding. The Twin Falls district received about $370,000 and money was used for literacy training for teachers and a digital intervention program for students.

“If we were to fund some teachers for extended day kindergarten, that would be a different use of that money than this year,” Jones said.

Educators say struggling kindergartners could use the extra help. But schools are forced to think outside the box to come up with the cash.

*This story was edited May 2 to correct information about Lincoln Elementary School’s all-day kindergarten program.

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