Special Joint Subcommittee Studying All-Day Kindergarten

November 18, 1998, Richmond


Staff reviewed a background memorandum for the subcommittee. The first statutory reference to kindergartens in the Commonwealth can be traced to 1920, with the enactment of legislation providing for the admission of persons under age six to kindergartens as may be established by local school divisions. Initially supported entirely by local authorities, kindergartens were made eligible to participate in the state school fund on July 1, 1968. It was not until 1978 that kindergarten became a required program in the public schools. An amendment adopted in 1985 required school boards to develop a procedure for informing parents of the option to test certain five-year-olds for kindergarten readiness. In 1990, the General Assembly eliminated the parental counseling and readiness testing option.

Current Requirements

Today, school boards are required to provide kindergarten programs that emphasize "developmentally appropriate learning" pursuant to the Standards of Quality. School divisions may operate two-tiered, junior, or "other developmentally appropriate" pre-kindergarten or transitional first grade; the age restrictions applicable to kindergarten do not affect these special programs. In 1996-97, over 91,000 students were enrolled in kindergarten in Virginia's public schools.

The Department of Education recommended in 1990 that the kindergarten entrance age be maintained until 1995, when voluntary programs for at-risk four-year-olds were expected to become available. Legislation adopted in 1993 clarified the kindergarten attendance requirement, permitting parents to delay a child's entry for one year upon the notification of the school board that the child, in the parent's opinion, is not mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared for kindergarten.

Preschool programs for at-risk four-year olds ultimately did receive state funding in 1995, as the General Assembly provided over $9 million for grants to schools and community-based organizations to provide programs for at-risk four-year-olds unserved by another program. Codifying this budget language was the 1995 Omnibus Educational Act, which initially calculated grants to address 30 and 60 percent of the Commonwealth's unserved at-risk four-year-olds in 1995-96 and 1996-97, respectively. Amendments adopted in 1998 permit the application of grant moneys to programs for four-year olds who are unserved by Head Start and five-year-olds who are "not eligible to attend kindergarten."

Statute does not specify the duration of the kindergarten day, although the Standards of Accreditation specify that the minimum day for kindergarten programs shall be three hours. This requirement is echoed in other Board of Education regulations, which specify 540 hours a year (180 days X 3 hours) for kindergarten instructional time and indicate that double shifts or "alternative plans" may be necessary to achieve this. Some school divisions operate half-day kindergarten programs, while most provide a full day of kindergarten programs and instruction.

Regardless of length, all kindergarten programs are supported by state and local funding, as required by the Standards of Quality, based upon average daily membership (ADM); however, in those localities operating less than full-day kindergarten (five and one-half hours) and maintaining pupil-teacher ratios greater than 30:1, funding is adjusted to include only 85 percent of kindergarten ADM (see Table 1). It is important to note that, under this formula, a school division might operate two less-than-full-day kindergartens per day and still receive full ADM funding if the programs' cumulative pupil-teacher ratio is 30:1 or less.

Table 1
School Divisions Adjusted for Half-Day Kindergarten
1998-1999 and 1999-2000


Prince William

Manassas Park

Virginia Beach

Source: Virginia Department of Education

Expanding to Full Day

Expanding kindergarten programs to a full-day format requires careful consideration of the various readiness and maturity levels of young children, as well as staffing, infrastructure, scheduling, transportation, and financial issues. School divisions operating less than full-day programs and serving two "shifts" daily would face significant space and staffing concerns. Finally, as HJR 277 notes, the effect of half-day kindergarten programs on at-risk students who have previously benefited from full-day, state-funded pre-school initiatives must also be considered.

Reviewing programmatic and policy considerations, a policy analyst with the Virginia Department of Education, noted that HJR 277 poses a variety of issues, such as:

Extending the length of the kindergarten day may increase time for socialization as well as adjustment to school, promote experiences that foster learning, provide a nurturing environment that might otherwise be unavailable to some latch-key children, offer early intervention for at-risk pupils, and supply teacher and students additional time to focus on the Standards of Learning (SOL). However, increasing the kindergarten day also necessitates consideration of what the additional hours and costs will "buy," as the additional time might not be used for instruction; whether the extended day promotes academic success as determined in standardized assessments such as the third grade SOL test; and whether parents support the extended day. In addition, increasing the kindergarten day may have fiscal impact in the divisions now offering half-day initiatives; additional classrooms may be needed as half-day initiatives are now held in the same classrooms. Additional teachers may also be required, although not necessarily double the current number. The need for adequate cafeteria, playground, and other space must also be determined. Finally, books, materials, equipment, hardware and software, and transportation costs must also be considered; local fiscal effort would be required.

Discussion focused on the "Success by 8" program, a variant of the ungraded primary initiative offered in Fairfax, and on whether more students would enroll in a full-day kindergarten than in a half-day initiative. It was also noted that, because full funding is based on aggregated pupil-teacher ratios, school divisions offering two half-day sessions at pupil-teacher ratios of 21:1 each do not receive full ADM, although the effect on the student is less than the designated 30:1 ratio. The subcommittee requested additional information on other states; the academic benefits of an extended program; and clarification of current practices, such as the possible proration of ADM funding in those divisions providing full- and half-day programs and whether aides are included in the calculation of the pupil-teacher ratio.

The Honorable James M. Scott, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Kathleen G. Harris