VIRGINIA BEACH — Full-day kindergarten is a hot-button topic this budget season and the school board is requesting nearly $5 million from the city to get it done for the 2019-2020 school year.
Each year the school board is tasked with submitting a balanced budget to City Council, understanding requests made above the balanced budget could result in a tax increase.
The balanced budget is determined by three sources: state, federal and local funding sources, said Farrell Hanzaker, the school district’s CFO.
“When we submit a balanced budget we also submit a list of unmet needs,” he said.
Full-day kindergarten funding falls under the unmet need category.
Funding for those unmet needs doesn’t always have to come from a tax increase, Mayor Bobby Dyer said.
He said the school board and the city have the option to look within their own budgets for discretionary funds that could cover the needs before a tax hike is introduced.
The $5 million request
The school board voted March 12 to request additional funds amounting to $4,859,450 to complete full-day kindergarten within the remaining elementary schools in the division.
That comes after an initial request was made in 2017 for $14 million to fully fund full-day kindergarten, of which City Council only gave $6.7 million, Hanzaker said.
The school board knew they would have to request for more funds at some point to be able to fully fund the program at all elementary schools, he added.
If the school board were to only use the budgeted funds, they would be unable to meet all of their budgetary requirements in addition to getting full-day kindergarten funded, Hanzaker said.
The school district is required by the state to provide a mandatory 3 percent raise for their teachers, if the school district does not comply they will forgo state funding, he said.
Cuts would also have to be made to several school programs such as special education and the McKinney-Vento assistance act to afford full-day kindergarten within the current budget, he said.
The district’s options
Hanzaker said if the school board was to wait and not request the funds, they’d be stuck asking for the funding another year since they weren’t given $14 million when they first requested.
He said the school board was left with four options:
- Spend the last $2 million of the original $6.7 million in funding they received in 2017 and then spend the following two years looking within the budgets for the rest of the funding needed.
- Spend the last $2 million of the original $6.7 million this year and request more funding for the final two years of the program implementation schedule.
- Halt the full-day kindergarten program all together.
- Slow down the implementation and stretch the program out for another six to 10 years.
“In my view I don’t think they could implement this program without requesting additional funding,” he said.
Each year comes with new budget constraints and Hanzaker isn’t confident the next few years are going to have more money available than this year’s budget has.
Superintendent Aaron Spence said while no one likes to hear about tax increases, he believes an investment in early childhood education is very important.
“We felt it was an equity issue,” he said.
He said being school ready, both academically and socially, are major reasons why the school board decided to go forward with the request.
Spence said Virginia Beach is one of two school districts in the entire state that doesn’t have full-day kindergarten across the board.
The other school district is Chesapeake.
City of Norfolk spokeswoman, Lori Crouch, was not immediately available for comment on the city’s funding for full-day kindergarten.
Bill McConnell, associate professor of education at Virginia Wesleyan University, said full-day kindergarten can be academically helpful for students, specifically in reading and math.
He also has observed the classrooms that already have the program in the city and has seen the positive outcomes of the extended social interaction can have on a child’s school-readiness for first grade.
“The kids get the social benefits of understanding school structures and learning how to get along with students,” he said.
Full-day kindergarten just gives them more instructional time overall, better preparing them for the rest of school, he noted.