Though recently much attention has been given to the importance of early childhood education, one stubborn shortcoming of education in the early grades remains largely ignored: Unlike every other grade in the K-12 system, some students in the United States still do not have access to free, full-day kindergarten at their local public schools. In fact, just 11 states and the District of Columbia require their public schools to provide free, fullday kindergarten by law. Alternatively, six states have no statute requiring any kindergarten at all. And though the remaining states require at least a half-day be provided, 12 allow for districts to require parents to pay for the second half of the day.
One useful way to understand the opaque and variegated landscape of kindergarten in the United States is through the experience of individual states. The case of Arizona illustrates especially well the potential for, rationale behind, and impact of cuts to full-day kindergarten funding in a system that has not wholly recognized full-day kindergarten as part of a basic public education. Arizona’s choice to promote full-day kindergarten in the state through budgetary incentives alone rather than requiring it through legislation left it vulnerable to cuts. Taking advantage of this vulnerability, Arizona policymakers and interest groups opposed to full-day kindergarten called into question the academic value of all-day classes. As CJ Libassi finds in a new policy brief from New America's Early Education Initiative, when all funding for full-day kindergarten in the state was ultimately rescinded, district officials had tough calls to make, which in many cases led to reductions in the number of full-day classes or cuts to other programs in order to maintain full-day classes.