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Full-day programs at risk at a time of maximum need

The Children's Defense Fund is deeply concerned about the future of full-day kindergarten in New York State. Eradication of full-day kindergarten in some school districts because of reductions in state funding is short-sighted and indefensible.

Without a full day of instruction, too many children will not be able to meet the new Common Core State Standards and will fall behind just as they are getting started in the kindergarten through grade 12 educational system.

These new standards define more rigorous academic outcomes that students are expected to meet beginning in kindergarten. The expectation of mastery of core standards remains the same regardless of whether a kindergartner has access to a half day or a full day of instruction.

Since New York cut $2.7 billion from education over the last two years and now local schools and municipalities are implementing the 2 percent tax cap in 2012, full-day kindergarten classes are in danger of disappearing. Cuts in funding for child care for low-income working families and no increases in funding for prekindergarten all add up to a questionable educational future for young children across the state.

We applaud the courage of local educators, school board members and parents in Port Chester and Liverpool who successfully pushed back efforts to cut class time for kindergartners, and persuaded school boards to keep full-day kindergarten for another year. Teachers, assistant teachers, parents and business leaders stood shoulder to shoulder to protect this most crucial learning time.

In the next few weeks many school districts will be making budget decisions that will determine the future of full-day kindergarten for the 2012-13 school year. All citizens should follow the example of the citizens of Port Chester and Liverpool and act now.

Arm yourself with information. Read the Common Core State Standards found at www.corestandards.org/the-standards to fully appreciate the new challenges facing schools and students. Read about full-day kindergarten at www.childrensdefense.org/policy-priorities/early-childhood-educatio -care/full-day-kindergarten.html and see where New York ranks. Form neighborhood discussion groups. Attend school board meetings and speak out for continued full-day kindergarten classes.

Before voting on school budgets this month, learn what the school's tax cap, including exemptions, really means for your community. Sixty percent of the voters in a district can override the cap. Make sure you ask the key question.

How can New York's youngest children meet increasingly difficult educational standards when significant instructional time is being cut?

The Children's Defense Fund thinks you deserve an answer.

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Jennifer Marino Rojas is deputy director of the Children's Defense Fund-New York. Cathy Grace is director of Early Childhood Policy for the Children's Defense Fund.