New funding allows some Utah schools to expand optional full-day kindergarten

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MURRAY — More schools across the Beehive State will offer optional full-day kindergarten in the fall, but there aren't enough classes to meet demand.

"We ended up having to resort to a lottery system," said Melissa Hamilton, the director of elementary teaching and learning in the Murray City School District.

Using the new state funding, the district is adding five full-day kindergarten classes for the next school year.

"When we found out that full-day kindergarten was an option districtwide, it was an exciting time because our kids get to be in the classroom more," Murray resident Andrea Pili said.

Pili's son was selected through the lottery system to attend full-day kindergarten next year.

"I feel like academically that he's just ready for that extra push that you might get with full-day kindergarten, also socially," Pili said.

This will be the first school year that all seven of Murray's elementary schools offer full-day as an option. Last year only three of the district's schools offered the program.

"I hope that we are able to gain more funding in the years to come because it certainly is a need, and parents have expressed the interest," Hamilton said.

Interest in full-day kindergarten has been strong in the Murray district, Hamilton said, and it's been disappointing for the families who have been placed on a waiting list.

"In one school, we do have an entire waitlist that could use a whole other kindergarten program," Hamilton said.

School districts and charter schools had to apply for a portion of the $12.2 million the Utah Legislature approved for the optional full-day kindergarten earlier this year.

The Utah State Board of Education said it received applications from 28 districts and 36 charter schools. The board only awarded funding to 26 districts and 19 charter schools.

The state board anticipates that funding will create 290 new full-day kindergarten classes and serve more than 6,600 students, according to Christine Elegante, the board's K-3 literacy specialist.

Elegante said they are aware of the waiting lists and that the availability of optional full-day kindergarten will vary across the state. She said the board plans to request more money during the next legislative session.

The state board said there are five school districts on a waiting list to receive money if schools cannot utilize their awarded funding and return it to the state.

Hamilton said Murray is one of those districts that has requested to be considered for returned funding and that it could quickly add more full-day kindergarten classes this fall.

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