Universal Public Full Day Kindergarten (“FDK”), as  the proposal goes to the Operations Committee of the Summit Board of Education (“BOE”), is not yet ready for prime time, if it ever will be. 

The pedagogical issue, which the Educational Committee of the BOE overlooked, is whether Summit is ready for universal public FDK to become the only game in town. It is likely that tuition-free FDK will displace tuition-based programs currently offered by Central Presbyterian Church, Cornerstone, St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Theresa’s, and the Connection wrap-around. It would be better to bring these programs within reach of lower-resource residents of Summit at lower cost than to reinvent universal FDK. And there may be a way to do it.

How is lower cost possible? The cost estimate that has been presented by the district understates the true cost of universal public FDK. The district proposal assumes that present excess building capacity will accommodate a static population indefinitely. The proposal assumes a class size of 24. And the proposal assumes that there will be no incremental administrative resources needed to supervise the new and expanded FDK. The district and board need to be reconsider these assumptions and include imputed costs in a revised disclosure to Summit residents.

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If the district still claims it can offer universal FDK at a cost to taxpayers of about $5,000 per child  ($4,700 is the District's estimate), the district could test its claim by offering parents of Kindergarten-aged children $5,000 per child to send their children to the full-day Kindergartens of their choices – and see what parents do. The offer could be in addition to, or in lieu of, public universal FDK. If the $5,000 figure holds, there would be choice for all Summit families, and Summit could vault from being a laggard to being a leader in preschool education.

Jim Bennett