Full-day kindergarten seems to be one hot commodity.

In the program's first year, extended-day kindergarten classes have been set up in 40 percent of Utah elementary schools in all but two of Utah's 40 school districts. They're also offered in American Leadership Academy, Freedom Academy, Pinnacle Canyon Academy and Moab charter schools.

Just Piute and Morgan are shown as not participating in the state program in a Wednesday report to the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

"So far, at least the anecdotal evidence is that it's been very positive," state associate superintendent Brenda Hales said of the program. "I've heard from parents saying, 'Why don't we have this program in every one of our district's schools?"'

Full-day kindergarten has been shown to drastically lift disadvantaged students who have not had the same at-home learning opportunities that more well-to-do students and native English speakers have. The idea is to better prepare all children for learning and at least narrow achievement gaps before they form.

The Utah Legislature last year approved a $30 million extended-day kindergarten program, distributing $7.5 million a year for four years. The money goes to schools with the greatest need. Some school districts use other money to offer more full-day kindergarten courses.

Thirty-three districts and all four participating charter schools offer full-day kindergarten. Eleven have made half-day kindergarten longer, even though it's not considered a full-day class. And nine school districts have made kindergartners' school year longer, be it by offering summer school or extra hours or days beyond the mandatory 180 day and 990-hour school year. More than 5,200 Utah students are enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

"We should have solid data on which works best out of those three types of approaches," Hales said.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, questioned whether some of these programs have next to no children enrolled.

Indeed, data provided by the State Office of Education only for full-day kindergarten (not the other two options) show just four students in Tintic School District's program. Emery District's program serves just 16 kids. By comparison, there are 925 in Granite District's program.

But state associate superintendent Larry Shumway said Tintic's program is at Callao School in Wendover, a school that has just 11 students total.

"It's very difficult to make too many generalizations from the small districts," Shumway said.

Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, wondered whether the money in some cases could have been better spent on reducing class size in half-day kindergarten programs instead of a full-day kindergarten program.

Shumway said that "would be a good research question." And, he said, maybe schools need more options under the program.

But, Shumway said, no question is full-day kindergarten worth the investment.

"When you can take a student who would not be ready for first grade in half-day kindergarten and have them ready for literacy challenges in first grade in a full-day kindergarten ... it's money tremendously well spent."

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