For years, studies have shown that full-day kindergarten programs increase academic readiness for students entering first grade, can improve attendance and allow teachers to better identify and respond to a student’s educational needs.
Still, students in New Jersey are not required to attend kindergarten before entering school at age 6.
Again, for the third time in five years, New Jersey legislators are pushing for a task force to study the feasibility of requiring full-day kindergarten for 5-year-olds in the state.
“Education has always been the cornerstone of a lot of policy work that I’ve done here because it’s a space that absolutely changes the trajectory of a human being,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex. “We know the benefits of kindergarten.”
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A majority of districts in the state — 480 — offers full-day kindergarten programs, while 40 offer half-day kindergarten, including Egg Harbor Township and Linwood.
As rigor continues to increase in primary and secondary education, a full-day kindergarten program could better prepare students, experts say.
“It increases language and communication development, builds and reinforces cognitive development, promotes social and emotional learning, enhances physical development and still leaves time for children to explore through play,” said Jim Giaquinto, associate director of special projects at Stockton University’s Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center. “In 2.5 hours, not everything is going to get done.”
Giaquinto, who served as superintendent in Absecon from 2002 to 2014, said studies show improved academic gains in reading and math, and that full-day interaction allows teachers to better identify and address academic, social and emotional issues.
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Costs and lack of space are often cited as the prohibitive factors for districts, but both Linwood and Egg Harbor Township said recently they are considering full-day kindergarten.
“Any time that we can offer more educational opportunities for students, I think that anyone would tell you that they’re a proponent of that,” said Brian Pruitt, superintendent of Linwood schools. “I can tell you that the expectation of what students are asked to accomplish in a school have changed over time.”
Pruitt said it is part of the district’s strategic plan to get a feel from the community on full-day kindergarten, which it is in the midst of now.
“This conversation has happened before in Linwood,” he said, noting that cost, staffing and facilities requirements all need to be considered.
In 2016, Egg Harbor Township studied implementation, found the space for the students but ended up nixing a plan to move to full-day kindergarten in 2017 due to budget concerns.
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Egg Harbor Township Superintendent Kim Gruccio said it is again part of the district’s three-year strategic plan.
“This year is research and discussion, and we are in the midst of that now,” she said.
Nationally, a push for full-day kindergarten is underway in several states with new governors, including California and Colorado.
The latest bipartisan bill, which advanced in February from Assembly committee, would appoint a 22-member task force to study implementing full-day kindergarten throughout the state, including staffing, space, funding, class size and curriculum needs. The task force would be required to issue a report within a year.
In 2016, New Jersey’s Assembly approved an identical bill, but the Senate took no action. And in 2014, a similar bill was approved by the full Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
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There is no scheduled committee vote yet on the Senate version of the current bill. Ruiz said she wants to see the legislation considered during the ongoing budget process to make sure funding is available for districts to create full-day programs before any mandates to implement are put in place.
Ruiz said she believes this is something that can pass, especially as the governor continues to expand funding for preschool. She said part of the conversation has to include full-day kindergarten.
Pruitt said his district plans to keep an eye on legislation as it completes its strategic planning process this year.