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?
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.