Editorial: Kindergarten is a priority

Oak Harbor’s kindergarten experiment at Clover Valley Elementary School can be used to help persuade the Legislature to better fund public schools when the next session starts in January.

Using Title I funding, the Oak Harbor School district is offering a free all-day kindergarten to certain parents of students at Clover Valley, many of whom are lower income. As a story in Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times reported, parents are delighted with the outcome. Early results show all students in the class have already met their reading goals, and 17 of 19 have met their math goals.

Kindergarten isn’t meant to be a hardcore learning experience, but it does provide children a chance to get a head start on the learning that will be required for the next 12 years. It’s a big help to parents, particularly those who are single, and there’s a financial bonus as well: Free kindergarten saves parents the hefty cost of another year of full or part-time daycare.

Two other Oak Harbor schools, Hillcrest and Oak Harbor elementaries, also offer full-day kindergarten, but at a price. Parents taking advantage of those programs pay $235 monthly in tuition.

It is well known throughout the education community that full-day kindergarten helps socialize kids for school and gets them ready academically as well. This state has many shortcomings in education, all the way up to the college level, but it seems logical that additional dollars should go where it will do the most good -- at the earliest ages. Good work habits learned in kindergarten can, with continued nurturing, pay off throughout life.

The Washington State School Directors Association has many financial goals for this legislative session, one of which is full funding of all-day kindergarten. The Oak Harbor experiment shows that this is a worthy goal, and one that deserves the highest priority in Olympia.

For several years the state has been cutting back on education. Teacher salaries haven’t kept up with the cost of living and health care, and badly needed new programs have been ignored. Full-day kindergarten is one way to put education on the right track of continued improvement. It’s time for our representatives in Olympia to show us some progress, starting with five-year-olds.

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