One Two Punch: Full Day Kindergarten, Reform ESDs

Representative Mark Hass is a second term legislator representing parts of SW Portland and Beaverton.


If bestselling author Robert Fulgham attended Oregon schools today he’d have to give his blockbuster book a new title: Half of What I Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

That’s because Oregon currently provides only a half day kindergarten, which is actually 2.5 hours.

Here’s why this is important:

o New research conducted within the last 18 months has confirmed earlier studies that show children – even from difficult home situations – have a greater chance at academic success with full day kindergarten.

o Studies also show full day kindergarten to be an equalizer. Low income students in full day kindergarten are more likely to perform at equal – or even higher levels than students from affluent communities.

o The most significant finding in studies that compare half day to full day is that children learn to read sooner. Educators say if children can read proficiently before third grade, they are on the road to success. On the other hand, 75 percent of children struggling to read after third grade are likely to drop out.

High school dropouts are expensive. They end up in the welfare system and sometimes in the corrections system. Worse, a high school dropout is doomed to a life of difficulty in our technology driven society.

In Oregon, only private schools and a few public schools that receive federal money for low-income children offer full day kindergarten. There’s a reason for this. Educators understand the long-term cost benefit to developing these young minds.

There’s also a compelling financial argument for Oregon to extend kindergarten.

Taxpayers already spend more than $120 million a year for the current half-day program, about $5,300 per child. That includes fixed costs, such as administrators, janitors and electricity. These costs are the same whether kindergarten lasts for one hour or ten hours. By doubling the day to five hours, the cost increases by only 21 percent, or about $6,800.

That’s a smart business decision, the kind taxpayers demand from government these days.

Taxpayers are also demanding cuts in needless administration. And here comes the one-two punch: we can pay for extended-day kindergarten by slashing administration in an obscure part of our school system known as Educational Service Districts.

The intent of the 20 ESDs in Oregon is to form pool that enables small, rural schools to contract for services such as a speech pathologist. But ESDs also serve giant school districts such as Beaverton and Portland where the economies of scale for specialists already exists.

ESDs are redundant layers of government with highly-paid superintendents, car allowances and other costly perks. For the most part, their mission is unfocused. For example, the Multnomah ESD runs a printing plant to help generate revenue. When did we get into the printing business? In the Baker-Umatilla ESD, mismanagement and questionable spending of millions of dollars is the focus of an FBI investigation.

The potential savings through ESD reform will more than cover the cost of extending kindergarten to a five-hour day.

Robert Fulgham’s kindergarten lessons include playing fair and working together. We should follow these steps by giving our children access to a full day of kindergarten so they have a fair shot at academic success. And we should work together to eliminate costly duplication of ESDs.

Only then can we follow his most popular kindergarten lesson and …take a nap.

June 17, 2005 by Mark Hass
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