Kindergarten Plan Comes With Big Holes

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Much has been made of Gov. Janet Napolitano's plans to make early childhood a priority this year.

One of the key proposals she offered in her State of the State address Jan. 12 was a program to fund all-day kindergarten in 250 schools where at least 90 percent of the students participate in the free and reduced-fee lunch program.

So, does that mean the Rim country will be seeing some of that money for early education?

Not quite.

The Payson School District already has one full-day kindergarten class at each of its elementary schools, but since only 58 percent of the students are in the meal program, it cannot qualify.

Pine and Tonto Basin schools offer half-day kindergarten. They have a higher percentage of students in the free and reduced-fee programs -- about 80 percent in Pine and around 75 percent in Tonto Basin -- but not the required 90 percent.

Jeannie Cline, cafeteria manager at the Tonto Basin School, said few schools are likely to have that many students enrolled in the meal program.

It would appear the governor's proposal suffers from a case of smoke and mirrors. It sounds like a great idea, but if there are no schools that meet the criteria, it does not seem likely that the proposal can get off the ground.

Such proposals are dreamed up by people down at the capitol. They and their staffs hash things out, spending their time studying all the ins and outs, including where the money is coming from. And money is likely to be a tricky point in any such proposals, considering the state is already facing a deficit of between $350 and $500 million, depending on which political camp is making the most noise.

A great deal of time and money will go into putting together the all-day kindergarten bill. And because education is near and dear to nearly everybody, the bill might even pass.

Then, if, after all that effort, the mandatory minimum for participation is 90 percent, all that work would have been for naught.

Bureaucracy at its finest.

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