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Why St. Paul Public Schools wants its preschoolers to stay all day

January 10, 2018
Josh Verges
Twin Cities Pioneer Press

St. Paul Public Schools is offering more free, full-day classes for 4-year-olds in hopes they’ll stick around for kindergarten.

The district’s voluntary preschool program has room for 504 full-day students this year, up from 264 the year before. They’ve pared the number of half-day seats by 160, to 1,479.

Lori Erickson, assistant director of early learning, said the shift is a response to parent demand. Half-day seats often go unfilled while full-day seats rarely come open.

“In the three years I’ve been in my role I’ve only talked with one family that (prefers) half day,” she said.

Full-day preschoolers follow the same 6 1/2-hour schedule as other elementary school students. The rest get just 2 1/2 hours in the morning or afternoon.

“Families are saying half-day doesn’t work for us, this is too hard,” Erickson said.

Erickson said full-day students have better attendance and they’re less likely to de-enroll during the year.

Perhaps most important for a district stressed by declining K-12 enrollment, full-day preschoolers are more likely to come back for kindergarten.

At one school, Erickson said, 37 percent of half-day preschoolers stayed for kindergarten; since they changed their program to full days, they’ve retained around 80 percent.