Full-day kindergarten plan gets boost

State lawmakers appear to have beaten Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 officials to the proverbial punch regarding full-day kindergarten.

At Monday’s District 181 board meeting, Superintendent Hector Garcia informed board members that state legislation mandating full-day kindergarten by the 2027-28 school year enjoys bipartisan support, has already passed the Illinois House and is anticipated to pass the Illinois Senate by the end of this week.

“(Gov. J.B. Pritzker) is expected to sign it as part of his overall package and focus on early childhood,” Garcia said.

Implementing full-day kindergarten has long been a topic of debate in the district. The issue reached a tipping point in March, when the board signaled support for forming an ad-hoc committee to study the matter and eyed the 2025-26 school year as the potential launch of the program.

Shortly thereafter, the district became aware the proposed state measure, House Bill 2396, and has been closely monitoring its progress. In light of the anticipated passage of the bill, creation of an ad-hoc committee has now been deemed moot. Instead the board will leverage its academic success, facilities and finance committees to help address the staffing, construction and fiscal needs of full-day kindergarten in the district.

Board member Asim Aleem asked if the district remained committed to an envisioned 2025-26 start in light of the state’s 2027-28 target.

“We’ve never contemplated a change,” Garcia said. “We feel like we should implement it as soon as possible.”

Preparation of design plans for the necessary additional classrooms at each school are scheduled for the first half of 2024. Bids would the go out in the second half of 2024, with the ensuing construction taking place from December to July of 2025.

To inform that work, the district has enlisted a demographer to provide enrollment projections.

“That demographer is going to be instrumental in making sure that we only build what we need and not more,” Garcia said.

During his 2023-24 tentative budget presentation, Rick Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations, said the district has accounted for a construction outlay, although the true amount won’t be known until bids are received.

“We are putting a placeholder for full-day kindergarten at $26 million through debt certificates,” he said.

Garcia said state officials have discussed funding for school districts that may need additional resources to offer full-day kindergarten.

“We’re not expecting money on that front,” he remarked.

Board member Grace Shin inquired about setting aside money for full-day kindergarten staffing.

“We have to double the amount of kindergarten teachers we’re going to have. Do we have any concern about making space for that in our future budgets?” she asked.

Engstrom replied that the number of the teachers would not double, and that the district has ample reserves to cover the increase in salaries.

Garcia encouraged residents to lend their talents to the district to help shepherd this project.

“How do community members get involved with conversations having to do with full-day kindergarten? They could get involved in our board committees,” Garcia said. “This is going to be a big endeavor.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean