Free full-time kindergarten returns to Valley school district - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Free full-time kindergarten returns to Valley school district

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

A Valley school district is hoping all-day kindergarten will bring families back to their schools.

When the economy went bad in Arizona, state lawmakers cut funding. The Deer Valley Unified School District says it paid the price.

Malissa Utter's 4-year-old daughter Chloe is a pre-schooler at Mirage Elementary. Since Mirage offers only free half-day kindergarten, Utter was planning on moving Chloe to a different school with free full-time kindergarten.

"It would have been hard because we would have one child here, and one child in another school, and there would have been a lot of back and forth," Utter said.

Deer Valley used to offer free full-time kindergarten, but got rid of it back in 2008, due to state budget cuts.

Principal Jamie Wilbur says Mirage Elementary took a big hit, as many families chose to go to neighboring districts or to charter schools with free all-day programs.

"Not only did we lose the kindergartners, but we end up losing the whole family because parents don't always want to drop off one kid here, another off at another school," Wilbur said.

The move took its toll on enrollment. Mirage Elementary was built for 1,100 students, and now has only 440 students enrolled. Wilbur hopes going free full-time kindergarten again will lure families back. 

"We know that we have to do it, that it's an investment. It's an investment in our kids. It's an investment for the future of our district," he said.

Now it's up to the district school board and senior leadership to decide where the money will come from. 

Utter is thrilled, not only that her family's routine will be easier, but for the benefits Chloe will receive.

"It's huge that now they have a whole day and they also get the transition of learning how to have lunch in the cafeteria and recess and all the things that you need to be learning in kindergarten you don't get that in a couple of hours," Utter said.

Mirage Elementary will host a community extravaganza to promote the full-time kindergarten.  It is Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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