The Tucson Unified School District is guaranteeing free full-day kindergarten in the fall despite being faced with a looming $17 million budget deficit.
Currently, the state funds only half-day kindergarten. To cover the second half of the day, it will cost TUSD $5.3 million a year.
When discussions first began about how TUSD could address the budget shortage, a menu of items was released to the public identifying areas that could be cut and the savings that would be generated.
While free full-day kindergarten was on that list, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said he has no indication that the Governing Board is looking at that as an option and he has no intention of recommending it.
"I believe that in this district, it's extremely important to support all of our students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged," Pedicone said. "Research shows that one of the greatest equalizers is the quality of early childhood education."
In 2010, state legislators eliminated the full-day funding. In TUSD, schools that were unable to afford to offer free full-day classes either converted to half-day classes or charged tuition, which cost up to $2,000 a year at some schools.
After a year TUSD decided that approach was inequitable and harmful to academic achievement. Free full-day kindergarten returned in 2011 and has been offered ever since.
Pedicone acknowledges that all of the cuts approved thus far - closing 11 schools, cutting teachers, librarians, counselors and central administration - have been trying, he feels that taking full-day kindergarten off of the list is appropriate.
"If we're trying to make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, this is the last thing I'd recommend we look at," Pedicone said. "A lot of these cuts have been extremely emotional but the things we know make a difference in student achievement need to be preserved."
This year, TUSD is serving approximately 4,000 kindergartners and expects at least that many for the upcoming school year, Pedicone said.
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Kindergarten open house
TUSD is kicking off Kindergarten Open House Week on Monday.
Parents will have the opportunity to meet teachers, tour schools and learn about the educational programs offered.
Special parent meetings will be held for families affected by the school closures in their neighborhoods so they can learn about their new home school.
To view a full list of the 62 participating schools, scheduled events and activities, enrollment and registration information, go to tusd1.org/freealldayk
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at email@example.com or 573-4175.