COEUR d'ALENE - All-day kindergarten won't be an option in the Coeur d'Alene School District any time soon.
Trustees, citing concerns about creating inequity in public education, decided Monday against moving forward with a proposal to provide a second half-day of kindergarten for children whose parents are willing to pay for it.
"I don't want to go all Steve Adams on you, but if we review our Constitution, it (public education) has to be uniform and free," said Trustee Brent Regan. "How do we provide additional education to children whose parents happen to be able to pay for it? How do we go down that slippery slope? I don't even know if it's legal."
Wendell Wardell, the school district's chief operating officer, and Matt Handelman, the associate superintendent, presented the proposal to the trustees during a public hearing held during the school board's regular monthly meeting.
The state of Idaho provides public school districts with enough funding to cover half-day kindergarten. Under the proposed fee system, parents opting for full-day kindergarten would pick up the tab for the second part of a full school day.
The proposed cost of the Coeur d'Alene program was $350 per child. If the program was successful and grew, Wardell said they would break even at 45 students and begin turning a profit. He estimated that within several years, the profit would be between $300,000 and $400,000.
There would also be an academic benefit, Handelman said. Kindergarten students now only get 2.5 hours of instruction per day. The additional time would better prepare them for first grade and beyond, he said.
"The word 'elitist' is what popped into my head, and he (Regan) said it much more gently than me," said board chair Tom Hamilton. "That's what it boils down to ... the kids who can afford it are not the kids who need it, more often than not. If the purpose is academic, then I think we need to go about it another way."
The school officials said they would incorporate income-based scholarships for free and reduced all-day kindergarten tuition, once the program was making a profit.
"I think, down the road, it could easily generate enough money that any child that wanted all-day kindergarten could avail themselves of it, and that's not what we have right now. Right now, what we have, is those that can afford to go to private kindergarten do, and those that can't, don't," Superintendent Hazel Bauman said.
Several citizens testified, one in support of the plan, and two opposed.
"As a community we pay to educate kids, and we're muddying those waters with this, and you could carry this to the extreme ... are we going to do pay for pre-calc, or pay for geometry?" Regan said.
He suggested they take a hard look at how the district's kindergartners are performing, and if there is a need for additional academic support, they find another way to provide it.
"The idea has merit, and the idea has pitfalls, and I think, for me personally, without exploring this in a lot more detail than we're going to have opportunity for tonight, I think the pitfalls are of more concern than the merit, although it does have merit," Hamilton said.
Bauman said the administration would look for other ways to increase the amount of instructional time the district's kindergarten students receive.