Ohio fiscal saga continues, this time let's talk about full-day kindergarten

The fiscal problems consuming states and school districts have gotten their fair share of press recently. The narrative is somewhat formulaic: _________?? (state/district/school) is hurting financially in the following way/s ________ (budget cuts, falling revenues, failed levies) and because of this, bad things are happening, such as ____________ (massive teacher layoffs, shrinking the curriculum, bloated class sizes, cutting sports/extracurriculars/busing).

Ohio's narrative has a twist: add to the depressing formula the fact that the governor has recently mandated very expensive reforms, despite the fact that many school districts are barely keeping their heads above water. Last week Mike's Ohio Education Gadfly piece dug into this ongoing saga, and Emmy discussed it in previous Flypaper posts here and here. Yesterday's article from the Cincinnati Enquirer was another reminder that Gov. Strickland's mandates have a big sticker price. District officials shared their concerns over implementing full-day kindergarten by 2010:

Even if we could pass our levy and spread out and have the space, the new challenge is the cost," said Little Miami Superintendent Dan Bennett. "Quite honestly, we're nowhere close to being prepared for it, financially." (The article estimated the cost for adding kindergarten teachers to be $700,000 for Little Miami.)

To add all-day kindergarten, we would have to add at least one building, as well as the staff and programming for that building," said Laura Kursman, (Lakota) district spokeswoman.

We do not currently have enough classroom space to implement all-day kindergarten. This mandate will increase costs in facilities, transportation and personnel costs," said Oak Hills Superintendent Todd Yohey.

Not everyone has accepted the one-dimensional nature of this doomsday fiscal narrative at face value. Last week Eric pointed out that many districts have failed to cut costs sensibly (e.g. laying off good teachers, keeping bad ones, and compounding the problem). George Mitchell at EducationNext's blog called out the media for its "long-running template, i.e. schools face fiscal shortfalls, tight budgets, dwindling resources, blah, blah, blah, blah," and for its failure to include facts on how much we've increased per-pupil spending over the last several decades.

While I agree with these points, (especially Eric's suggestion that school districts reinvent themselves to be more cost-effective), I also sympathize with Ohio districts grappling over how to pay for Strickland's chex mix of reforms. Literally, how will they simultaneously pay for full-day kindergarten (requires new space and more teachers), decrease kindergarten class size (requires even more space and more teachers), while also compensating for the fact that state aid has decreased, most voters won't pass a levy, and local property values are falling?

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