NJ lawmakers renew push to explore full-day kindergarten

Several lawmakers are hoping to convince Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider previously vetoed legislation that would have created a task force to explore the pros and cons of all-day kindergarten.

In January of 2014, Christie vetoed the bill that would have created the task force. In his veto message Christie explained that almost three-quarters of New Jersey’s school districts already offered all-day kindergarten. He also said it should be a local choice, not a state mandate. Several Assembly members want to pass the legislation again in hopes that the governor would reconsider.

The full Assembly approved a new bill (A-447) last Thursday. The measure would establish a 21-member task force to study and evaluate issues regarding the establishment and implementation of full-day kindergarten. The NJ education commissioner would be a member. Others would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders in both houses.

“First of all, here in New Jersey we don’t require kindergarten at all,” said bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (Maplewood). “Most people don’t know that. So, the idea is to first look at whether or not we should make that a requirement and then look at whether or not full-day kindergarten makes sense for all districts.”

The reason some school districts don’t have full-day kindergarten or kindergarten at all typically comes down to a lack of money, Jasey said.

“The state currently only supports half-day kindergarten so if a district wants to go to full day they have to do it on their own dime,” she said.

All-day kindergarten could also be a game-changer for many children according to another bill sponsor.

“Research shows there are plenty of benefits to full-day kindergarten, including a smoother transition to first-grade and higher academic achievements in later grades,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) in an emailed statement. “These early years are critical for children. It behooves us to look at this data and the advantages of implementing full-day kindergarten throughout the state, especially when some are already enjoying the benefits.”

The panel would be charged with studying issue which include:

  • Staffing needs, facility space, and class size;
  • The long-term academic, social and emotional impact of full-day kindergarten;
  • Funding needs and sources of funding;
  • Recommendations and opinions of parents and elementary school teachers; and
  • The feasibility of offering full-day kindergarten in school districts statewide.

“Efficient and productive full-day kindergarten programs can be critical in launching our students to higher achievement, making them competitive with high-performing students from around the world and making New Jersey more competitive in the global marketplace,” said bill co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) in a press release.

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