Loudoun County, VA (September 23, 2015) – The Loudoun County School Board discussed preliminary options for expanding full-day kindergarten (FDK) at a work session on Tuesday, September 15th, at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.
LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Kevin Lewis, and Director of Elementary Education Dr. Mike Martin presented ideas for expanding FDK in anticipation of the formulation of the Superintendent’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2017 Budget and the 2017-2021 Proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP). (Williams is scheduled to present his Proposed Budget on January 7, 2016, and the Proposed CIP on November 10th.)
At Tuesday’s work session, the superintendent said staff will be working on short and long-term options to expand FDK. This would continue an initiative that began during the current fiscal year that saw FDK enrollment increase from 11 to 31 percent. The current expansion focused on student groups referred to as “criteria-eligible students”: students from low-income families; English language learners; and special education students for whom FDK is determined to be appropriate by an individualized education program (IEP) team. 1,496 students were enrolled in FDK after they were identified as “criteria-eligible.”
Other interested students were selected for FDK through a lottery, depending on space availability. Martin reviewed the lottery process for the School Board and options for its expansion. This year, lotteries were open to students in the attendance zone of a FDK school where space was available (approximately 85 additional students were placed in FDK through this process). In future years, LCPS could open lotteries to students outside the attendance area of a FDK school. This would occur after assigning seats to interested, criteria-eligible students and students from the school’s attendance area.
No final decisions have been made regarding the lottery process for future years.
Lewis shared information regarding the possible expansion of FDK using existing space. He said, in accordance with guidance from the School Board, six current FDK classrooms were limited to 15 students. These classes are located in schools with relatively few criteria-eligible students. Lewis said a future option might be to increase the enrollment limit in these classrooms from 15 to 25, creating space for 60 additional students. This option will be assessed further once enrollment projections for the 2016-17 school year are set. Projections will be based on an analysis of LCPS’ official enrollment on September 30th.
Lewis also explained FDK participation could be expanded using existing space in classrooms assigned to kindergarten. Fourteen classrooms are now used for only a morning or afternoon session of kindergarten. If these 14 classrooms are available for FDK next year, an additional 350 students could be served. This option also will be assessed further after student projections for next year are set.
Martin estimated the cost of both FDK expansion methods (removing the 15-student enrollment cap and increasing room utilization) at approximately $1.4 million. The 410 potential additional FDK students constitute 8.4 percent of the current kindergarten population.
Offering FDK in Loudoun has proven difficult because LCPS has consistently been the fastest-growing school division in Virginia. Since 2000, Loudoun’s school population has grown from 31,804 to an estimated 75,755 this year (an increase of 138 percent). The number of LCPS schools has doubled (44 to 88) in the same time frame.
Lewis described options for expanding FDK by increasing the number of classrooms in existing schools. He said the Superintendent’s Proposed CIP may include proposals to place classroom additions at multiple schools over several years. He said if LCPS built a three-classroom addition at three schools in each of the next four years, it could serve approximately 900 more FDK students. The cost of adding 36 classrooms among 12 schools during a four-year period is estimated to cost from $32 million to $34 million. Williams stated that estimated operating costs associated with providing FDK in the additional classrooms will be presented to the School Board during the CIP review process. Williams observed that the School Board would be able to better assess the possibility of building classroom additions in the context of the entire proposed CIP once it is released in November.
The 900 students that might be served through these additional classrooms represent 18 percent of current kindergarten students. If the existing space and additional classrooms were used as described, more than 57 percent of kindergarten students could be served in FDK.
The School Board is scheduled to adopt a Proposed CIP on December 8th. CIP expenditures proposed by the School Board could proceed if the Board of Supervisors approves them. Lewis said LCPS staff and the School Board typically attempt to add new CIP projects in the last two years of a new six-year CIP. Including classroom additions in the CIP budget for next year would represent a change in this practice.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cynthia Ambrose cited an “Issue Brief” that was provided by LCPS staff members to the School Board last November. According to the “Issue Brief”: “With respect to short-term outcomes, FDK programs have demonstrated significantly stronger academic and non-academic gains over the course of the kindergarten year than HDK (half-day) programs. Unfortunately, the positive effects of FDK over HDK typically fade each subsequent year.” As Ambrose observed, researchers referenced in the “Issue Brief” concluded, “FDK is probably best viewed as one in a continuing series of interventions needed to alter the academic success of students who enter and continue through school with disadvantages.”
School Board members and staff members observed that the FDK options will need to be considered in light of competing priorities for the CIP and operating budget. For example, allocating classrooms to FDK would use space that could be used for further class-size reduction.
Throughout the meeting and at its conclusion, Williams emphasized the information shared at the work session was very preliminary. The final options presented might include serving fewer or more students than envisioned in the options reviewed. “These proposals, and the details associated with them, will evolve. I commend you all for diving into these conversations regarding the possibilities for expanding FDK both in the short-term and long-term.”