Changes coming to Seattle kindergarten programs

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 6:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 23 at 10:28 AM

Saving for college is hard enough for many families, but now some in Seattle may have to consider saving for kindergarten. The city's school district plans to raise tuition for full day kindergarten and eventually phase out the subsidy altogether.

The Seattle School District plans to raise fees for full-day kindergarten by 15% next fall to about $2,700 for 10 months. It's yet another hand in the family budget, says parent Juli Russell.

"A lot of us pay a lot of money for pre-school, and you look forward to public education where you don't have to pay and you can start saving money for college."

Schools that currently qualify for free full-time kindergarten because of a low income population of at least 55% would not be affected. The rest, about half of the Seattle's elementary schools, would. It leaves troubling questions for many who worry about those struggling to pay the current rate.

"What if they can't pay? What are they gonna do?" Asks parent Ruth Michaelis.

And the writing is on the wall for future Seattle kindergarteners. The tuition for 2013 is expected to jump to over $3,100. After that, the subsidy will most likely disappear completely, according to school officials. It's a response to dwlindling government aid.

In Kent, however, where schools took a $17 million budget cut, the school district still pays the full $1.7 million a year to provide free coverage to all kindergarteners. Administrators say they've simply made it a top funding priority because for every dollar spent today they save $10 down the road.

"We see it in reduced social service costs, reduced costs in terms of criminal behavior, reduced mental health services," says Supt. Edward Lee Vargas.

In Seattle, parents who can't afford to pay would be able to opt for free part-time kindergarten. Many, though, believe that short-changes students since voluminous studies show the more time spent in school early on the better. The Seattle School Board will vote on the issue in March.  A public meeting is scheduled for February 29th.

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