September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Districts worry about kindergarten funding

CANTON — A recent opinion by Ohio’s attorney general that school districts can’t charge parents for all-day kindergarten has brought confusion and concern, as administrators respond to many parents who believe all-day kindergarten is necessary to stimulate young minds in their most formative years.

Education officials have been in discussions with state lawmakers about passing a law that would allow districts to charge for all-day kindergarten on a sliding scale according to parents’ incomes, said Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Karla Carruthers.

Many parents said they want the option to send their kindergartners to school for a full day, and in some cases, are willing to pay for it.

“The school has gone above what is required of them in offering these programs,” said Julie Phillips, whose child attends all-day kindergarten in the Marlington Local School District in Stark County. “The bottom line is that the fee is nominal compared to the education provided and is definitely cheaper than having the children enrolled in day care.”

Without legislative action, Attorney General Marc Dann’s opinion could mean that many districts will have to look elsewhere for funding or shutter the programs.

“Either way, it will be a difficult decision for the districts,” said Mary Jo Shannon Slick, general counsel for Stark County Schools. “If they stop altogether, parents will be concerned.”

Eleven of Stark County’s 17 districts offer all-day kindergarten. Three districts charge tuition ranging from $150 to $225 a month, and some receive poverty-based assistance to help defraying the cost.

Canton Local Schools has been creative, using district intervention and federal funds to pay for all-day kindergarten.

The attorney general’s office was aware of the concern the opinion would cause but felt compelled by the law, said Kevin McIver, opinions section chief for Dann.

“State law presently requires school districts to provide a free public education to all children,” McIver said. “The General Assembly has not given school districts the authority to charge for all-day kindergarten.”

The sliding scale approach being considered by the Legislature would be welcomed by parents such as Dawn Thompson of Jackson Township.

“I feel my child doesn’t get the same opportunities because I can’t afford to pay for full-time,” Thompson said. “He is already lagging behind and the school year is just starting.”