Full-day kindergarten mandate hits governor’s desk, but costs remain unknown

Full-day kindergarten mandate hits governor’s desk, but costs remain unknown

Illinois may soon require all public school districts to front the costs of a full-day kindergarten program starting in 2027. There is no designated financial support from the state. Opponents said it’s not about a lack of desire or need, but the lack of funding.

A bill on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk could mandate every public school in Illinois to provide full-day kindergarten by 2027, despite offering no funding assistance or estimates on the costs to taxpayers.

House Bill 2396 would require school districts around the state to provide full-day kindergarten to families with children ages 4 to 6 by the 2027-2028 school year. The bill also creates a task force to estimate the costs to local taxpayers of implementing the mandate and to track enrollment.

Illinois previously only required schools to offer a half-day kindergarten program. A Chalkbeat analysis of Illinois State Board of Education data shows over 700 of the state’s 852 school districts already reported full-day kindergarten enrollments.

School districts that don’t already provide full-day kindergarten may need to raise local taxes to cover the costs of the new program. Those include building new classrooms and hiring more teachers, said Illinois Principals Association Government and Public Relations Director Alison Maley.

Maley said without money in the bill to help local school districts implement the mandate, it comes down to whether local taxpayers can afford it.

“It’s not for a lack of desire, it’s a lack of space, lack of resources, lack of staffing,” Maley said.

Voters in Glen Ellyn School District 41 turned down a November referendum that would have funded the construction of new buildings to allow for full-day kindergarten and science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics activities. That proposal was estimated to cost local taxpayers $49 million.

If signed by Pritzker, HB 2396 does allow school districts to apply for a two-year extension before transitioning to a full-day kindergarten program.

But schools can apply only if the district is funded below 76% of adequacy according to the state’s evidence-based funding formula, is ranked in the top 25% of capital funding need, or meets other criteria to be set by the State Board of Education based on the task force’s recommendations.

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