Coeur d’Alene pilot program brings full-day kindergarten to more students

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The Coeur d’Alene School District is leading the way in early education with a pilot program that’s brought full-day kindergarten to more students.

Coeur d’Alene School District Director of Communications Scott Maben said there is such a high-demand for full-day kindergarten that the district started a pilot program to offer full-day, tuition-based classes. Maben said it started with two schools last year and has expanded to six this year.

Maben explained that of the about 800 students enrolled in kindergarten in Coeur d’Alene, 270 are in half-day classes. There are 143 in the pilot program classes that are paid for in part by the district and parents. Families pay $2,475 per year for that, according to the district’s website. There are 387 students in full-day kindergarten classes fully paid for by the district, according to Maben.

Maben said if the district could afford to cover all the costs of full-day kindergarten, it would pursue that. But it’s not an option right now, which is why some parents are bridging the gap.

Families are on a waiting list to get into the tuition-based classes. Students are selected by lottery for that program. Maben said there are five seats in each class for students who qualify for a fee waiver.

While the district has made progress to expand access to full-day kindergarten, there is room for growth.

Emily Bailey is a special education teacher for early childhood in Coeur d’Alene, but she previously taught full-day kindergarten in another district. She said the expectations are higher than ever, so more time in the classroom is crucial.

“We’re expecting a lot from them, so it’s really hard if you have a half-day program,” Bailey said.

Both Bailey and Coeur d’Alene Education Association President Kimberly Ziegler worry that Idaho kids could fall behind peers in other states if there isn’t a focus on investing in early education.

“It is very important that they get the same education and that they receive the same services and have the same opportunity and that’s not happening now,” Ziegler said.

It’s a disparity state lawmakers are aware of.

Late last year, a task force recommended to Governor Brad Little that there be more full-day kindergarten, among other additions to the education system.

Maben said that the district hopes to be able to provide full-day kindergarten at no extra cost to families one day. That’s something Bailey is hoping for, too.

“I’m excited about what the future looks like for early childhood in both the state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene School District because I think we are moving forward in the right direction,” Bailey said.