Recently the Oregon Attorney General issued an opinion that charging parents for fulltime kindergarten wasn't legal. The Oregon Department of Education has decided that the Attorney General isn't correct. This controversy points to a larger issue for the state. When will Oregon join the other 38 states that have adopted fulltime kindergarten?

Research on the subject is clear. Children in full-day kindergarten classes show greater reading and mathematics gains than those in half-day classes. Full-day kindergarten can produce long-term educational gains, especially for low-income and minority students. Full-day kindergarten offers social, emotional and intellectual benefits to kindergartners. Five-year-olds are more than ready for the longer school day and do better in a setting that allows them to learn and explore activities in depth.

Economically, full-day kindergarten is a no-brainer. Up front investment in quality early childhood education programs generate returns of 3-to-1 or even higher. The reason for this is clear. Remediation programs in elementary, middle school, and high school are expensive and their success rate is spotty at best. Put your dollars up front where they will do the most good.

In the last Oregon legislative session our lawmakers wisely put more money into early childhood education. Their focus was preschool programs. They are to be applauded for this decision. It is time to take the next step. Provide full time kindergarten as an essential bridge between pre-kindergarten programs and more structured learning in first grade.

This will not be an easy transition. Lawmakers must face some sticky problems. When kindergarten became part of the K-12 program in the early 70s the legislature decided to give kindergarten half of what first through twelfth-grade students received in the state funding formula. In addition school districts face a lack of classroom space for a full-day program. Any full-day kindergarten proposal must face these economic and facility problems. A phased-in program that allows for gradual increases in the funding formula and time for local districts to find capital funding for additional classrooms is necessary.

Can we accomplish this formidable task? I believe we can. As a Gresham resident, I would dearly love to see this spearheaded by our East County legislators, Rep. John Lim and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson. A visit to East County school districts will point to the necessity of closing the achievement gap in our fastest-growing populations - low-income and minority students. Full-day kindergarten would be a giant step forward for East County and the entire state of Oregon.

Dennis Storey is a second-grade teacher at Kelly Creek Elementary.

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