When we drop off our five-year old daughter at the public school where she currently attends kindergarten in Summit, New Jersey, she and her friends all appear quite similar. I see the same smiles, the same backpacks and the same level of excitement about learning. However, there is one difference among the students. Some of the children attend a full-day kindergarten program, while others, a half-day program.

At this public school, how is it decided who attends which program? It is mainly about the ability of parents to pay tuition.

Those children whose parents pay $7,175, the annual tuition, attend the full-day program. And those parents who don’t pay that fee – their children attend the half-day program. While some parents may not choose to make use of the full-day program, the tuition is a high barrier for many other families and they simply can’t afford the full-day of school. So what message does this unconventional financial arrangement send to our children?

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There are many messages we and others will send to our children as they grow up. But of all the things we could communicate to our five-year olds at the outset of their public school education, we have decided to include this: “You are not all equal.” That is quite a message to come from a public school. It is not one my wife and I are proud of and it is not one we want to send to our daughter who is a very fortunate little girl.

Our town has created a private school inside the walls of our public school system. And we have chosen to use our public school system – this otherwise 100% tax-payer funded institution – to send a message that both creates and perpetuates inequality in the minds of five-year olds. That is certainly not part of the mission of any public school. Instead, we need to send a message that imparts the ideals of Horace Mann who said: “Education is the great equalizer of the conditions of men.”

The Summit Board of Education had the best intentions when starting the full-day, tuition-based program a few years ago. They took a giant step forward. I applaud their hard work in creating the wonderful program that my daughter and her friends benefit from each day. But I believe the program must now change.

I respectfully call upon our Summit Board of Education to provide universal, full-day, 100% tax-payer funded kindergarten. It is the only message consistent with the values of public education.

Jon Bird