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State Senator Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, speaks about legislation pertaining to the FY 2011 Budget.

 TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley K. Turner that would create a task force to study issues related to full-day kindergarten, including the feasibility of implementing full-day programs in schools statewide, was approved today by the Assembly. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.

“We know that early education is critically important to preparing children for success. A quality full-day kindergarten program provides students with extraordinary benefits, including stronger academic skills, improved socialization and a better educational foundation as they begin their schooling,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This task force will examine all of the factors related to implementing full-day kindergarten and recommend how best to move our state toward providing a day-long program for all students in the state.”

Currently, students in the state’s 31 highest poverty districts attend full-day kindergarten. The implementation of the program stems from the requirement of the Abbott v. Burke school funding decision that all children in the districts receive a high-quality education. The full-day kindergarten program, however, does not extend to all of the state’s school districts.

“Extending full-day programs to schools statewide is the right thing to do from an educational standpoint, and from a family perspective,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer). “In additional to the significant academic benefits this will provide to children, it also is a policy that reflects the realities of a 21st Century world, in which many parents are experiencing hardships and struggling with the demands of working a full-time job while raising a family.”

The bill (S-2763) would create a 21-member task force to study and evaluate issues associated with the implementation of full-day kindergarten statewide.  The panel would review existing research, studies, and data concerning full-day kindergarten, including studies that examine the long-term academic impact and the social and emotional impact of full-day kindergarten. Further, the task force would study implementation issues, including staffing needs, facility space, and class size; funding needed for full-day kindergarten, including sources of funding; and the feasibility of offering full-day kindergarten in school districts Statewide. The task force would also examine curriculum comparisons between full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten and opinions and recommendations of parents and elementary school teachers regarding full-day kindergarten.

The task force would be comprised of: the Commissioner of Education; one member appointed by the Senate President; one member appointed by the Assembly Speaker; one member each appointed by the Senate Minority Leader and the Assembly Minority Leader;  and 16 members appointed by the Governor, including three superintendents of schools, two elementary school principals, two kindergarten teachers, and one member recommended by each of the following groups: the New Jersey Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and the Garden State Coalition of Schools; and three members of the public with expertise related to the work of the task force, one which must be a parent.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 35-0 in November. The Assembly approved it 75-4-1. It now heads to the governor’s desk.