Full Day Kindergarten--Testimony--Betsy Ginsbug on Full Day Kindergarten Legislation(Senate Education Committee, 1-25-18)

Good morning Senator Ruiz and members of the Committee.  I am Betsy Ginsburg, Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.  This morning I want to speak about S1055, which mandates full day kindergarten.

            We wholeheartedly support the idea of full-day kindergarten for all and applaud Senators Ruiz and Turner for their long term commitment to our children.  We agree that implementing full-day kindergarten for all New Jersey students will help transform education in our state.

            When we discussed this bill last spring, Senator Ruiz’s office estimated that it would cost at about $78 million to provide full day kindergarten for the roughly 18% of districts that do not have it already.  We agree that it would be an excellent investment in our students’ future, but the fact remains that districts simply do not have the money for that investment.  If the State of New Jersey truly values full-day kindergarten; they must be willing to pay for it.

            I will quote Dr. Michael LaSusa, Superintendent of the School District of the Chathams on the costs of implementing full day kindergarten in his district:

I work in a district with a half-day kindergarten program.  I believe that full-day kindergarten would be an enhancement to our program and would benefit kids.  However, each of my elementary schools is operating at full capacity right now, without a single open classroom.  Moving to a full-day program would require my district to either go out for a doubtful bond referendum to build more classrooms or increase class sizes in grades 1 - 3 to about 30-35 students in order to free up classrooms.  In addition, we would also probably have to submit a second spending proposal to our voters for additional staff, which also would face opposition.  Mandating full-day kindergarten without supplying significant amounts of additional state aid would have an adverse impact on learners overall in my school district.  

I will also quote Dr. David Aderhold, Superintendent in West Windsor-Plainsboro:

If the full-day Kindergarten program was to move forward the West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School district would have a growth of 20 classrooms to accommodate the increase from a half-day program to a full-day program by 2020 - 2021.  In addition the district would need 20 teachers and the required IA’s (classroom aides) to increase ˝ day special education K classrooms to full time.  This would require building expansions and a referendum for the additional classrooms.  Due to code requirements these rooms would need bathrooms as they are mandated for kindergarten.  Currently, the district has no available elementary classrooms and is already seeking expansion at one of our elementary schools to accommodate approved residential growth.  Complicating this matter forward is the outstanding Affordable Housing decision that is pending in Superior Court. The logistics and cost on this decision has enormous ramifications.

As Senator Ruiz remarked last spring, it is imperative that we have the conversation about full-day Pre-K now.  We agree, but we also believe that any conversation that does not include identifying a secure source of funding for the expansion does a disservice to a truly valuable initiative and, ultimately to our children.