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15,000 Michigan kids take two years of kindergarten. Is Lansing listening?

One in eight Michigan kindergarteners now take two years of kindergarten. That’s a financial boon to families with young children and schools, but a $127 million bill to the state for an extra year of schooling with unknown academic impact.

In essence, families and schools are stepping in where Lansing hasn’t — adding a 14th year to students’ traditional 13-year school career by enrolling children in “developmental kindergarten” that leads into traditional kindergarten, or by taking two years of regular kindergarten classes.

The surge in two-year kindergarten programs in the state is startling both because of its speed, and because it is happening without any official state policy change. 

The two-year kindergarten programs are popular among families, with officials in several districts telling Bridge they have waiting lists. 

 

Still, discrepancies in the growth of the programs are criticized by some early childhood leaders, who question whether the classes — overwhelmingly enrolling white, non-poor students — risk widening the state achievement gap. Skeptics say they also wonder whether school districts’ motives in marketing these untested programs are more about collecting an extra year of state money for each student, than about education.

“We have a 14th year of school now. I’ve been waiting for years for someone [in Lansing] to notice,” said Sean LaRosa, executive director of early childhood services at Livingston Educational Service Agency in Livingston County. “It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – no one wants to say he’s buck naked.”

Unproven but popular

The number of kindergartners spending two years in public school before first grade (categorized by the state as kindergarten retentions) increased by 21 percent in the past four years. Over this same period, retention in grades one through 12 dropped by 14 percent across Michigan.

The majority of kids being retained this year appear to be among the 15,768 children who turned 5 between the Sept. 1 cutoff for traditional kindergarten and Dec. 1. Most are enrolled in what is generically called developmental kindergarten, a typically full-day program that follows the same school schedule as higher elementary grades.

The state considers developmental kindergarten and regular kindergarten to be the same, and pays school districts the same $8,111 per student foundation allowance.

Referred to by different names in different districts, such as “young 5s” or “transitional kindergarten,” the classes usually follow a similar curriculum to traditional kindergarten, but at a slower pace. 

Shannon Murton, developmental kindergarten teacher in Haslett, a suburban community near Lansing, told Bridge her goal is to get her class of young 5-year-olds through about half the academic curriculum as the district covers in traditional kindergarten classes.

“The rigor of kindergarten has increased so much, a lot of parents feel their children are not ready yet,” Murton said. “When you’re lucky enough to have a child that lands in the right age-range, it’s a nice transition.”

Rather than being among the youngest children in traditional kindergarten, developmental kindergarten gives kids with fall birthdays the chance to mature emotionally, and be among the oldest in their classes when they advance the following year into traditional kindergarten.

Murton said the two developmental kindergarten classes in Haslett, a community with about half the percentage of low-income students as the state average, are filled to capacity months in advance of the school year.

Kindergarten retention

Keeping students for two years of kindergarten has grown increasingly popular. Check out how many are held back in each district. To see all schools in a county, type the county's name in the box.

District Kindergarten retention
Planned Unplanned Total students Percent retained
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Washtenaw County
267 24 1,678 17.3
Hudsonville Public School District
Ottawa County
180 9 692 27.3
Rockford Public Schools
Kent County
177 41 787 27.7
Jenison Public Schools
Ottawa County
176 6 566 32.2
Dearborn City School District
Wayne County
168 34 1,574 12.8
Portage Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
149 4 845 18.1
Kentwood Public Schools
Kent County
142 24 876 18.9
Grand Haven Area Public Schools
Ottawa County
138 21 538 29.6
Clarkston Community School District
Oakland County
120 12 608 21.7
West Ottawa Public School District
Ottawa County
118 11 579 22.3
Warren Consolidated Schools
Macomb County
111 23 1,031 13
Grandville Public Schools
Kent County
111 16 555 22.9
Brighton Area Schools
Livingston County
103 2 484 21.7
Livonia Public Schools School District
Wayne County
81 20 1,064 9.5
Zeeland Public Schools
Ottawa County
78 74 610 24.9
Grand Ledge Public Schools
Eaton County
78 34 505 22.2
Oxford Community Schools
Oakland County
76 9 441 19.3
Lapeer Community Schools
Lapeer County
72 9 419 19.3
Grand Blanc Community Schools
Genesee County
71 24 633 15
Lake Orion Community Schools
Oakland County
71 18 519 17.1
Waterford School District
Oakland County
71 17 639 13.8
Byron Center Public Schools
Kent County
71 15 387 22.2
Mattawan Consolidated School
Van Buren County
71 4 341 22
Kenowa Hills Public Schools
Kent County
69 12 306 26.5
Dexter Community School District
Washtenaw County
68 4 312 23.1
Northview Public Schools
Kent County
66 6 274 26.3
Thornapple Kellogg School District
Barry County
64 4 296 23
Allendale Public Schools
Ottawa County
63 5 255 26.7
Reeths-Puffer Schools
Muskegon County
62 22 345 24.3
North Branch Area Schools
Lapeer County
62 1 226 27.9
Woodhaven-Brownstown School District
Wayne County
61 9 459 15.3
Saline Area Schools
Washtenaw County
60 9 393 17.6
Western School District
Jackson County
59 10 244 28.3
Fenton Area Public Schools
Genesee County
59 8 299 22.4
Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools
Genesee County
57 16 356 20.5
Davison Community Schools
Genesee County
56 38 487 19.3
Charlotte Public Schools
Eaton County
56 4 237 25.3
Lakeshore School District (Berrien)
Berrien County
55 11 242 27.3
Grosse Pointe Public Schools
Wayne County
53 6 517 11.4
Freeland Community School District
Saginaw County
52 2 190 28.4
Marquette Area Public Schools
Marquette County
51 2 263 20.2
Wyandotte, School District of the City of
Wayne County
50 8 402 14.4
Hartland Consolidated Schools
Livingston County
49 14 360 17.5
Brandon School District in the Counties of Oakland and Lapeer
Oakland County
48 7 212 25.9
Midland Public Schools
Midland County
47 20 576 11.6
Ypsilanti Community Schools
Washtenaw County
47 18 380 17.1
Cross Creek Charter Academy
Kent County
47 2 111 44.1
Coldwater Community Schools
Branch County
46 14 246 24.4
Berkley School District
Oakland County
46 13 401 14.7
Swan Valley School District
Saginaw County
46 9 178 30.9
Kelloggsville Public Schools
Kent County
46 7 222 23.9
Adrian Public Schools
Lenawee County
44 25 296 23.3
Fraser Public Schools
Macomb County
44 4 438 11
Williamston Community Schools
Ingham County
44 3 174 27
Holly Area School District
Oakland County
43 12 283 19.4
Bedford Public Schools
Monroe County
43 8 349 14.6
Michigan Center School District
Jackson County
43 4 155 30.3
West Branch-Rose City Area Schools
Ogemaw County
42 11 188 28.2
Vicksburg Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
41 1 217 19.4
Holland City School District
Ottawa County
40 17 275 20.7
St. Joseph Public Schools
Berrien County
40 9 249 19.7
Montague Area Public Schools
Muskegon County
40 7 141 33.3
Linden Community Schools
Genesee County
40 3 211 20.4
Watervliet School District
Berrien County
40 1 143 28.7
DeWitt Public Schools
Clinton County
39 9 267 18
Hamilton Community Schools
Allegan County
39 6 228 19.7
Tecumseh Public Schools
Lenawee County
39 5 235 18.7
Berrien Springs Public Schools
Berrien County
39 5 160 27.5
Standish-Sterling Community Schools
Arenac County
38 8 166 27.7
Lincoln Consolidated School District
Washtenaw County
38 5 270 15.9
Imlay City Community Schools
Lapeer County
38 5 165 26.1
Negaunee Public Schools
Marquette County
38 0 165 23
Niles Community Schools
Berrien County
37 28 349 18.6
Madison School District (Lenawee)
Lenawee County
37 8 170 26.5
Hanover-Horton School District
Jackson County
37 2 117 33.3
Gibraltar School District
Wayne County
36 3 293 13.3
Swartz Creek Community Schools
Genesee County
35 16 290 17.6
Marysville Public Schools
St. Clair County
35 9 187 23.5
Van Dyke Public Schools
Macomb County
35 1 222 16.2
Hopkins Public Schools
Allegan County
34 8 145 29
Chelsea School District
Washtenaw County
34 5 202 19.3
Holt Public Schools
Ingham County
33 11 431 10.2
Lakewood Public Schools
Ionia County
33 8 177 23.2
Three Rivers Community Schools
St. Joseph County
32 8 258 15.5
West Bloomfield School District
Oakland County
32 5 437 8.5
Quincy Community Schools
Branch County
32 3 117 29.9
Flat Rock Community Schools
Wayne County
31 5 177 20.3
Leslie Public Schools
Ingham County
30 8 126 30.2
Center Line Public Schools
Macomb County
30 7 230 16.1
Comstock Park Public Schools
Kent County
30 4 210 16.2
Southgate Community School District
Wayne County
29 8 250 14.8
Vanderbilt Charter Academy
Ottawa County
27 2 78 37.2
Alpena Public Schools
Alpena County
26 24 327 15.3
Hemlock Public School District
Saginaw County
26 4 114 26.3
Haslett Public Schools
Ingham County
26 3 214 13.6
Marlette Community Schools
Sanilac County
26 3 73 39.7
Grosse Ile Township Schools
Wayne County
26 0 141 18.4
Bangor Township Schools
Bay County
25 13 181 21
Napoleon Community Schools
Jackson County
25 2 117 23.1
Eagle Crest Charter Academy
Ottawa County
25 2 105 25.7
Marshall Public Schools
Calhoun County
24 10 214 15.9
Chandler Woods Charter Academy
Kent County
24 5 109 26.6
Keystone Academy
Wayne County
24 3 113 23.9
Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy
Wayne County
24 0 101 23.8
Trenton Public Schools
Wayne County
23 1 204 11.8
Vanguard Charter Academy
Kent County
23 1 111 21.6
Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw
Houghton County
23 0 119 19.3
Oakridge Public Schools
Muskegon County
22 16 183 20.8
Eaton Rapids Public Schools
Eaton County
22 12 188 18.1
Excel Charter Academy
Kent County
21 2 107 21.5
Taylor Exemplar Academy
Wayne County
21 1 103 21.4
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools
Dickinson County
20 3 60 38.3
South Canton Scholars Charter Academy
Wayne County
20 0 110 18.2
South Arbor Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
20 0 95 21.1
South Pointe Scholars Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
20 0 91 22
Ubly Community Schools
Huron County
20 0 64 31.3
Okemos Public Schools
Ingham County
19 13 345 9.3
Sparta Area Schools
Kent County
19 10 209 13.9
Almont Community Schools
Lapeer County
19 6 116 21.6
Stockbridge Community Schools
Ingham County
19 3 111 19.8
Kearsley Community School District
Genesee County
18 12 196 15.3
Kent City Community Schools
Kent County
18 9 115 23.5
Plainwell Community Schools
Allegan County
18 5 184 12.5
Centreville Public Schools
St. Joseph County
18 4 89 24.7
Innocademy
Ottawa County
18 4 65 33.8
Mona Shores Public School District
Muskegon County
17 26 303 14.2
Cass City Public Schools
Tuscola County
17 7 97 24.7
Hudson Area Schools
Lenawee County
17 1 108 16.7
Ridge Park Charter Academy
Kent County
17 0 95 17.9
Lake City Area School District
Missaukee County
17 0 91 18.7
Forest Hills Public Schools
Kent County
16 20 660 5.5
Coloma Community Schools
Berrien County
16 5 113 18.6
New Haven Community Schools
Macomb County
16 3 139 13.7
Walker Charter Academy
Kent County
16 3 102 18.6
Saranac Community Schools
Ionia County
16 3 87 21.8
Leland Public School District
Leelanau County
16 1 46 37
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker Schools
Huron County
16 0 76 21.1
Carrollton Public Schools
Saginaw County
15 16 135 23
East Lansing School District
Ingham County
15 13 257 10.9
Sturgis Public Schools
St. Joseph County
15 8 266 8.6
East Jackson Community Schools
Jackson County
15 6 76 27.6
Sand Creek Community Schools
Lenawee County
15 4 64 29.7
Cassopolis Public Schools
Cass County
15 3 91 19.8
Clawson Public Schools
Oakland County
15 2 154 11
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
Kent County
14 23 156 23.7
Brandywine Community Schools
Berrien County
14 7 118 17.8
Walton Charter Academy
Oakland County
14 6 106 18.9
Onsted Community Schools
Lenawee County
14 6 95 21.1
Columbia School District
Jackson County
14 5 119 16
Knapp Charter Academy
Kent County
14 4 102 17.6
Grass Lake Community Schools
Jackson County
14 3 103 16.5
Tri County Area Schools
Montcalm County
13 9 154 14.3
Bentley Community School District
Genesee County
13 7 75 26.7
Concord Community Schools
Jackson County
13 6 58 32.8
East Arbor Charter Academy
Washtenaw County
13 4 100 17
Millington Community Schools
Tuscola County
13 4 79 21.5
Marcellus Community Schools
Cass County
13 4 59 28.8
Meridian Public Schools
Midland County
13 3 105 15.2
Grand Traverse Academy
Grand Traverse County
13 1 78 17.9
Chippewa Valley Schools
Macomb County
12 25 1,004 3.7
Orchard View Schools
Muskegon County
12 11 191 12
Van Buren Public Schools
Wayne County
12 10 305 7.2
Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools
Clinton County
12 7 50 38
Houghton-Portage Township School District
Houghton County
12 6 117 15.4
Clinton Community Schools
Lenawee County
12 2 105 13.3
Grand River Academy
Oakland County
12 1 96 13.5
Grand Rapids Public Schools
Kent County
11 53 1,338 4.8
South Lyon Community Schools
Oakland County
11 12 741 3.1
Menominee Area Public Schools
Menominee County
11 9 102 19.6
Hartford Public Schools
Van Buren County
11 6 110 15.5
Endeavor Charter Academy
Calhoun County
11 5 114 14
Ishpeming Public School District No. 1
Marquette County
11 4 64 23.4
North Central Area Schools
Menominee County
11 2 26 50
Allegan Public Schools
Allegan County
10 24 200 17
Spring Lake Public Schools
Ottawa County
10 17 148 18.2
Vassar Public Schools
Tuscola County
10 8 87 20.7
Dansville Schools
Ingham County
10 4 66 21.2
Vista Charter Academy
Kent County
10 3 90 14.4
Paramount Charter Academy
Kalamazoo County
10 3 75 17.3
Hazel Park, School District of the City of
Oakland County
10 2 190 6.3
Caledonia Community Schools
Kent County
9 74 398 20.9
Utica Community Schools
Macomb County
9 48 1,846 3.1
Flint, School District of the City of
Genesee County
9 24 463 7.1
Timberland Academy
Muskegon County
9 8 98 17.3
Morenci Area Schools
Lenawee County
9 2 65 16.9
Redford Union Schools, District No. 1
Wayne County
8 14 137 16.1
Comstock Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
8 6 152 9.2
Kalamazoo Public Schools
Kalamazoo County
7 21 1,045 2.7
Clintondale Community Schools
Macomb County
7 5 142 8.5
Landmark Academy
St. Clair County
7 4 91 12.1
Mayville Community School District
Tuscola County
7 3 45 22.2
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
Wayne County
6 144 1,265 11.9
Walled Lake Consolidated Schools
Oakland County
6 30 949 3.8
Port Huron Area School District
St. Clair County
6 24 593 5.1
Burton Glen Charter Academy
Genesee County
6 11 115 14.8
Charyl Stockwell Academy
Livingston County
6 5 85 12.9
Waterford Montessori Academy
Oakland County
6 5 58 19
Warren Woods Public Schools
Macomb County
6 4 196 5.1
Reach Charter Academy
Macomb County
6 1 84 8.3
Coleman Community Schools
Midland County
6 1 63 11.1
Lowell Area Schools
Kent County
5 58 306 20.6
Rochester Community School District
Oakland County
5 13 1,032 1.7
Inland Lakes Schools
Cheboygan County
5 9 68 20.6
Whitehall District Schools
Muskegon County
5 4 150 6
Lansing Public School District
Ingham County
4 88 988 9.3
Bay City School District
Bay County
4 54 523 11.1
Wayne-Westland Community School District
Wayne County
4 23 749 3.6
Goodrich Area Schools
Genesee County
4 21 156 16
Riverview Community School District
Wayne County
4 17 212 9.9
Belding Area School District
Ionia County
4 17 149 14.1
Eastpointe Community Schools
Macomb County
4 10 203 6.9
Huron School District
Wayne County
4 9 163 8
Blissfield Community Schools
Lenawee County
4 7 104 10.6
Lakeview Sch. District (Calhoun)
Calhoun County
4 6 275 3.6
Fortis Academy
Washtenaw County
4 6 97 10.3
Royal Oak Schools
Oakland County
4 5 374 2.4
Black River Public School
Ottawa County
4 4 66 12.1
Kingsbury Country Day School
Oakland County
4 4 40 20
Bad Axe Public Schools
Huron County
4 2 84 7.1
Huron Valley Schools
Oakland County
3 105 691 15.6
Howell Public Schools
Livingston County
3 80 585 14.2
Saginaw Township Community Schools
Saginaw County
3 50 357 14.8
Flushing Community Schools
Genesee County
3 44 325 14.5
Taylor School District
Wayne County
3 42 535 8.4
Jonesville Community Schools
Hillsdale County
3 37 141 28.4
Holly Academy
Oakland County
3 31 101 33.7
Cedar Springs Public Schools
Kent County
3 27 297 10.1
L'Anse Creuse Public Schools
Macomb County
3 23 730 3.6
Coopersville Area Public School District
Ottawa County
3 22 181 13.8
Romeo Community Schools
Macomb County
3 15 333 5.4
Wyoming Public Schools
Kent County
3 12 291 5.2
Lake Shore Public Schools (Macomb)
Macomb County
3 10 217 6
Linden Charter Academy
Genesee County
3 6 90 10
Novi Community School District
Oakland County
3 4 455 1.5
Byron Center Charter School
Kent County
3 1 20 20
Honey Creek Community School
Washtenaw County
3 0 19 15.8
Detroit Public Schools Community District
Wayne County
2 110 4,000 2.8
Northwest Community Schools
Jackson County
2 98 345 29
Wayland Union Schools
Allegan County
2 87 328 27.1
Escanaba Area Public Schools
Delta County
2 69 217 32.7
Gull Lake Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
2 68 270 25.9
Saginaw, School District of the City of
Saginaw County
2 60 509 12.2
Jackson Public Schools
Jackson County
2 59 455 13.4
Dundee Community Schools
Monroe County
2 39 148 27.7
Airport Community Schools
Monroe County
2 36 238 16
Pinckney Community Schools
Livingston County
2 35 178 20.8
Traverse City Area Public Schools
Grand Traverse County
2 33 682 5.1
Gladwin Community Schools
Gladwin County
2 33 157 22.3
Paw Paw Public School District
Van Buren County
2 32 169 20.1
Lake Fenton Community Schools
Genesee County
2 29 161 19.3
West MI Academy of Environmental Science
Kent County
2 26 115 24.3
Crawford AuSable Schools
Crawford County
2 25 138 19.6
Clio Area School District
Genesee County
2 24 221 11.8
Harper Creek Community Schools
Calhoun County
2 23 238 10.5
Allen Park Public Schools
Wayne County
2 22 294 8.2
Otsego Public Schools
Allegan County
2 22 189 12.7
Fruitport Community Schools
Muskegon County
2 19 213 9.9
Reading Community Schools
Hillsdale County
2 19 76 27.6
Morley Stanwood Community Schools
Mecosta County
2 14 95 16.8
Greenville Public Schools
Montcalm County
2 12 287 4.9
Bloomfield Hills Schools
Oakland County
2 11 333 3.9
Troy School District
Oakland County
2 10 855 1.4
Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy
Manistee County
2 10 107 11.2
Farwell Area Schools
Clare County
2 10 86 14
Bronson Community School District
Branch County
2 8 91 11
Westwood Heights Schools
Genesee County
2 8 80 12.5
Sandusky Community School District
Sanilac County
2 7 78 11.5
Chatfield School
Lapeer County
2 7 55 16.4
Northville Public Schools
Wayne County
2 6 408 2
Birmingham Public Schools
Oakland County
2 5 538 1.3
Macomb Montessori Academy
Macomb County
2 5 49 14.3
Lakeview Public Schools (Macomb)
Macomb County
2 4 294 2
Mason Public Schools (Ingham)
Ingham County
2 4 270 2.2
Lamphere Public Schools
Oakland County
2 4 178 3.4
Houghton Lake Community Schools
Roscommon County
2 3 81 6.2
Colon Community School District
St. Joseph County
2 3 44 11.4
West MI Academy of Arts and Academics
Ottawa County
2 2 58 6.9
Merritt Academy
Macomb County
2 2 37 10.8
Island City Academy
Eaton County
2 2 24 16.7
Edwardsburg Public Schools
Cass County
2 1 182 1.6
Hastings Area School District
Barry County
1 91 270 34.1
Mt. Pleasant City School District
Isabella County
1 52 294 18
Essexville-Hampton Public Schools
Bay County
1 47 161 29.8
Bullock Creek School District
Midland County
1 36 187 19.8
Corunna Public Schools
Shiawassee County
1 35 166 21.7
Potterville Public Schools
Eaton County
1 35 101 35.6
North Muskegon Public Schools
Muskegon County
1 28 93 31.2
Caro Community Schools
Tuscola County
1 25 149 17.4
Ferndale Public Schools
Oakland County
1 24 196 12.8
Elk Rapids Schools
Antrim County
1 23 106 22.6
Bloomingdale Public School District
Van Buren County
1 21 101 21.8
Owosso Public Schools
Shiawassee County
1 20 263 8
Gwinn Area Community Schools
Marquette County
1 20 93 22.6
Saugatuck Public Schools
Allegan County
1 20 68 30.9
Addison Community Schools
Lenawee County
1 18 78 24.4
Southfield Public School District
Oakland County
1 17 345 5.2
Vandercook Lake Public Schools
Jackson County
1 17 76 23.7
Fennville Public Schools
Allegan County
1 16 107 15.9
Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools
Iosco County
1 16 61 27.9
Muskegon, Public Schools of the City of
Muskegon County
1 15 285 5.6
St. Charles Community Schools
Saginaw County
1 15 73 21.9
Hancock Public Schools
Houghton County
1 14 64 23.4
Farmington Public School District
Oakland County
1 13 667 2.1
Summit Academy North
Wayne County
1 13 100 14
Unionville-Sebewaing Area S.D.
Tuscola County
1 13 67 20.9
Light of the World Academy
Livingston County
1 13 56 25
Battle Creek Public Schools
Calhoun County
1 12 333 3.9
Gaylord Community Schools
Otsego County
1 12 227 5.7
Godwin Heights Public Schools
Kent County
1 12 135 9.6
Huron Academy
Macomb County
1 12 93 14
Delton Kellogg Schools
Barry County
1 11 86 14
New Branches Charter Academy
Kent County
1 11 71 16.9
East China School District
St. Clair County
1 10 263 4.2
Fowlerville Community Schools
Livingston County
1 10 196 5.6
Hart Public School District
Oceana County
1 10 91 12.1
International Academy of Flint
Genesee County
1 10 90 12.2
Melvindale-North Allen Park Schools
Wayne County
1 9 217 4.6
Bendle Public Schools
Genesee County
1 9 97 10.3
Decatur Public Schools
Van Buren County
1 9 62 16.1
Harper Woods, The School District of the City of
Wayne County
1 8 117 7.7
McBain Rural Agricultural Schools
Missaukee County
1 8 84 10.7
Holton Public Schools
Muskegon County
1 8 54 16.7
Munising Public Schools
Alger County
1 7 58 13.8
Chandler Park Academy
Wayne County
1 7 142 5.6
North Saginaw Charter Academy
Saginaw County
1 7 67 11.9
Mesick Consolidated Schools
Wexford County
1 7 58 13.8
Lake Linden-Hubbell School District
Houghton County
1 7 30 26.7
St. Johns Public Schools
Clinton County
1 6 191 3.7
Ludington Area School District
Mason County
1 6 141 5
Detroit Merit Charter Academy
Wayne County
1 6 100 7
The New Standard Academy
Genesee County
1 6 65 10.8
Ravenna Public Schools
Muskegon County
1 6 61 11.5
Milan Area Schools
Washtenaw County
1 5 125 4.8
Madison District Public Schools
Oakland County
1 5 114 5.3
Oakside Scholars Charter Academy
Oakland County
1 5 95 6.3
Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools
Kalamazoo County
1 5 70 8.6
Michigan Connections Academy
Ingham County
1 5 56 10.7
Legacy Charter Academy
Wayne County
1 4 83 6
Onaway Area Community School District
Presque Isle County
1 4 47 10.6
Oak Park, School District of the City of
Oakland County
1 3 294 1.4
Hillsdale Community Schools
Hillsdale County
1 3 117 3.4
Richfield Public School Academy
Genesee County
1 3 99 4
Beaverton Rural Schools
Gladwin County
1 3 70 5.7
Pansophia Academy
Branch County
1 3 61 6.6
Hope Academy
Wayne County
1 3 61 6.6
Grand Blanc Academy
Genesee County
1 3 49 8.2
Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan
Wexford County
1 3 38 10.5
Pittsford Area Schools
Hillsdale County
1 3 31 12.9
Carney-Nadeau Public Schools
Menominee County
1 3 23 17.4
Waverly Community Schools
Eaton County
1 2 192 1.6
Clarenceville School District
Wayne County
1 2 128 2.3
White Cloud Public Schools
Newaygo County
1 2 72 4.2
Akron-Fairgrove Schools
Tuscola County
1 2 31 9.7
Ecorse Public Schools
Wayne County
1 1 83 2.4
LakeVille Community School District
Genesee County
1 1 75 2.7
Vestaburg Community Schools
Montcalm County
1 1 48 4.2
Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools
Otsego County
1 1 47 4.3
Adams Township School District
Houghton County
1 1 32 6.3
Summit Academy
Wayne County
1 1 32 6.3
Dryden Community Schools
Lapeer County
1 1 30 6.7
Madison Academy
Genesee County
1 1 21 9.5
Owendale-Gagetown Area School District
Huron County
1 1 10 20
Riverside Academy
Wayne County
1 0 72 1.4
Cole Academy
Ingham County
1 0 61 1.6
Universal Learning Academy
Wayne County
1 0 53 1.9

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Spurred by third-grade reading law 

Several state education leaders date the growth in two-year kindergarten programs to the passage of Michigan’s third-grade reading law in 2016 that recommends third-graders be held back if they are more than a year behind in reading. The Legislature delayed implementation of the law until the current 2019-20 school year to give schools time to beef up early reading efforts.

Getting kids in school a year earlier could give schools more time to help them become good readers, said Richard Lower, director of the Preschool and Out-of-School Time Learning Office of Great Start in the Michigan Department of Education.

“Because we don’t have universal preschool in the state, schools were opening ‘early 5’ classes as a strategy for additional schooling, to better prep kids for readiness,” Lower said.

Privately, some school leaders — many of whom oppose the third-grade read-or-flunk law — said they saw an additional benefit of two-year kindergarten: Because the state considers developmental kindergarten and kindergarten to be the same, moving from the first to the second year of kindergarten is considered a retention. Children who have already been retained in a grade before third grade can’t be held back at the end of third grade because of low reading scores.

Thus, one in eight students who were in kindergarten last year will be exempt from the third-grade law.

Indeed, the strategy of deploying two-year kindergarten programs to get around the read-or-flunk law was discussed enough that MDE published a statement on its website discouraging it for that purpose. 

Among a list of frequently asked questions aimed at school officials, was a question about whether schools could use developmental kindergarten as a means to avoid third-grade retentions. The department stated: “MDE is not in support of creating ‘young fives’ or ‘developmental kindergarten,’ or extra-year placement programs at any grade level with the intent of affording students ‘previously retained’ status as described in the Read by Grade Three law (MCL 380.1280f). Districts shall always appropriately place each student based on the strengths and needs of the Whole Child.”

Money plays a role

While the third-grade reading law may have sparked interest in the classes, the biggest driver of the trend, say education leaders who spoke to Bridge, is economics – both for schools and families.

Cost was one of several factors Amanda Spicuzzi considered when she enrolled her daughter in a developmental kindergarten class in Ferndale last year. Spicuzzi said she was happy with her daughter’s developmental kindergarten class, and her daughter is doing well in traditional kindergarten this year. Saving child-care costs was nice, too.

She estimates her family saved $5,400 by having their daughter in developmental kindergarten rather than fee-based preschool in suburban Detroit.

“We were in a position where we could make that choice [between child care and early kindergarten], when some families would have to enroll because they couldn’t afford another year of preschool,” Spicuzzi said.

School leaders say cost savings are a common theme. 

“I’m not sure all our parents in any of our communities make the decision on whether to enroll their children [in a two-year kindergarten program] based on the developmental value,” said Peter Haines, superintendent of Ottawa Intermediate School District, where 25 percent of students take two years of kindergarten. 

“Sometimes mom and dad make a decision because it allows them to not hire child care.”

There’s an economic incentive for schools, too. 

Michigan school districts collected $128 million in state funding last year in per-student foundation allowance just for the children taking their second year of kindergarten before first grade, the majority of whom were still 4-year-olds  when the school year began. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools, for example, had 17 percent of its students take a second year of kindergarten last year, with student foundation allowance for those children totaling slightly more than $2 million.

Craig Thiel, research director at Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit public research organization, said there is a “big incentive” for schools to pursue an extra year of student foundation allowance by “growing my enrollment and getting my money for these young 5s.”

Haines played down the financial incentives of two-year kindergarten programs in West Michigan’s Ottawa County school districts, saying “they’re not the money-makers you’d think.” Livingston’s LaRosa disagreed, calling the classes a “cash cow” for school districts.

Competition for students

Individual school districts decide whether to encourage two years of kindergarten. That can lead to massive variations across the state, from 50 percent  of kindergartners taking a second year in tiny North Central Area Schools in Hermansville in the Upper Peninsula, to more than 500 school districts and charters that didn’t report any kindergarten retention to the Michigan Department of Education last year.

On the west side of the state, one in four kindergarten children in Ottawa County school districts were in their second year of kindergarten in 2018-19. Meanwhile, in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, where 82  percent of students are African American and 86 percent are economically disadvantaged, the rate of kindergarteners in their second year was only 2.8 percent.   

Livingston’s LaRosa said the growth in developmental kindergarten classes was a topic of frustration at a recent meeting of early childhood leaders in Lansing, where school officials voiced concerns that two-year kindergarten programs were springing up disproportionately in suburban districts.

Statewide, white students (14 percent) were twice as likely to have two years of kindergarten before first grade as black students (7 percent) in 2018-19.

That difference may be explained by low- and moderate-income students being eligible for separate, publicly-funded preschool programs including federal Head Start and Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program. In effect, the trend toward two-year kindergarten may simply reflect middle-class families creating their own state-funded preschool program for 4-year-olds.

When 4-year-old enrollment in Great Start, Head Start and a blend of those income-based preschool programs are added to 4-year-olds in kindergarten, Michigan has 60,000 4-year-olds in publicly-funded education -— that’s 64 percent of the way toward the universal pre-K that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer advocated in her gubernatorial campaign, but which has gained no traction in the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature. 

Still, several education officials told Bridge they were concerned that two-year kindergarten programs were not available equally across the state.

“It’s inequitably distributed,” said Livingston County early childhood official LaRosa. “The higher socioeconomic, well-educated people are advocating for this. So what it creates is (an environment where) districts...don’t philosophically buy into developmental kindergarten but they’re pushed into it because of competition … because you’re kissing money goodbye.”

Does it improve learning? Nobody knows

Despite spending $128 million on two-year kindergarten last year, the state has no idea if it helps, harms or has no impact on academic achievement.

Lower, of MDE, said the state hasn’t compiled data comparing the later test scores of students who had two years of kindergarten versus those with one year.

On the other hand, the state has seen gains from the state-funded preschool Great Start Readiness Program. Students who enrolled in GSRP as 4-year-olds scored higher  when they reached third grade on Michigan’s standardized test, the M-STEP, in both English language arts and math than their demographically-similar classmates who didn’t enroll in GSRP.

GSRP offers free, full-day preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

The question that has not been answered yet is whether Michigan’s slightly more expensive two-year kindergarten program has the same positive impact. 

The state pays $7,250 per year per student for full-day GSRP. Full-day developmental kindergarten is reimbursed at a minimum rate of $8,111 per year.

A Stanford study found that holding children back for a second year in kindergarten may have a positive impact on academic achievement for a few years, but the impact fades by third grade.

Not all states keep tabs on how many children take two years of kindergarten (Massachusetts, Minnesota and Ohio, for example, do not). In Indiana, the rate is 4 percent — a third of Michigan’s rate.

Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said he has doubts about the positive academic impact of two years of kindergarten.

“Everything I know suggests that retention does little good and may harm, at least in the long-run, and delayed entry (having children enter first grade at an older age) is of no value — though there may be some places and times in which this is not the case,” Barnett said. 

Barnett suggested Michigan compare the $128 million spent on two-year kindergarten to “spending the same amount or less money on one-to-one tutoring during the school year or summer to help children keep up rather than repeating an entire year. The answer to that is clear — this would be a much more effective and economically efficient policy.”

Not on Lansing’s radar

There’s no state policy defining developmental kindergarten, and no mention of it in the state school aid budget. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office declined comment for this article. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, chair of the K-12 and Michigan Department of Education committee, did not respond to an email request for comment and Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, minority vice chair of the education and career readiness committee and a former teacher, said developmental kindergarten is not an issue in the legislature.

And the state’s education department?

“It is fair to say MDE is aware of the increase in developmental kindergarten classes in which students are presumed to take two years of schooling before advancing to first grade,” said MDE’s Lower. “But the decision to offer DK is up to individual districts, and MDE doesn’t currently take a position on local district choice.”

Ferndale parent Spicuzzi does take a position: For her daughter, two years of kindergarten “was invaluable. We’d definitely do it again.”

Why should the state pay for an extra year of schooling for children like her daughter, Spicuzzi is asked. “I’d flip that,” Spicuzzi said. “It should be the state’s responsibility to start education younger. 

“The younger the better.”

Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this story

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