The days of all-day kindergarten lotteries and tuition payments are over for parents in the Payson Unified School District.
The state budget, signed into law last week by Gov. Janet Napolitano, allocated $80 million for each of the next two years to expand all-day kindergarten around the state. It also allocates $100 million to give teachers raises and offset a mandatory increase in state retirement costs.
Of that money, PUSD will receive about $200,000 for all-day kindergarten and a yet to be determined amount for raises.
The school board, at a June 27 special meeting, agreed to hire three additional kindergarten teachers and add two all-day kindergarten classes to the district's three elementary schools.
"It's a wonderful thing for the district and our children," superintendent Sue Myers said.
The infusion of state money means any kindergarten-age child in Payson can now attend school, all-day, free of charge.
In past years, parents had to enter children in a lottery to be eligible to attend kindergarten for full days.
Those who weren't selected in the lottery could attend half-day kindergarten.
Parents were charged $95 per month for tuition.
Robin Adcock, whose 5-year-old son will attend kindergarten at Payson Elementary School next school year, is elated with the changes in school funding.
"It's very exciting for Payson and it's good for all of Arizona," she said. "It (full-day kindergarten) was needed." Adcock also knows all to well the rigors of tuition and lottery picks. She once had to enter her older son -- Randy, now a third grader -- into the lottery and then scrape up the money to pay the tuition.
"It (no tuition) will help the family budget," she said.
Myers estimates about 180 more children will attend kindergarten full-time next school year than last.
"Previously, we couldn't have open enrollment. Now we can," she said.
With the school board's approval to hire the new teachers and the start of the 2006-2007 school year about a month away, Myers and the three elementary school principals have begun the interview and hiring process.
"We have advertised and we also have a small pool of locals who are certified that we will interview," Myers said.
While some districts around the state are having problems finding facilities and classrooms for the expanded kindergarten classes, that is not occurring in PUSD.
"Frontier (Elementary School) was the only school we were worried about, but we found the classrooms," Myers said.
Napolitano, who is rapidly building a reputation as a pro-education governor, has battled for funding for all-day kindergarten since she was first elected. The governor has said, and Myers and former PES principal Roy Sandoval agree, that many benefits exist for children who attend full day programs, including greater school success in later years.
"Roy did a study comparing how students who attended half- day did in comparison against those that attended full-day," Myers said. "It showed the students who had full-day kindergarten performed better in the upper grades of elementary school."
Of course, there are benefits for parents, not the least of which is lowered childcare costs.
As popular as full-day school is proving to be, Myers anticipates some parents will want their children to continue attending part-time. The district is studying ways to accommodate those wishes.