Northborough parent group advocating for tuition-free, full-day kindergarten


By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

(l to r) Rebecca Mihopoulos, Amy O’Leary and Titus DosRemedios Photo/Liz Nolan
(l to r) Rebecca Mihopoulos, Amy O’Leary and Titus DosRemedios
Photo/Liz Nolan

Northborough – The parent-led advocacy group Northborough for Full Day Kindergarten has been bringing awareness to the topic of tuition-free, full-day kindergarten for Northborough public schools for three years. On Aug. 21, at the Northborough Free Library, Boston based Strategies for Children, Inc., presented facts and data to the community in support of the benefits of full day kindergarten and how parents can advocate for it.

Strategies for Children, Inc., works to ensure that Massachusetts invests the resources needed for all children to access high-quality early education programs that prepare them for success, including tuition-free, full-day kindergarten.

Group co-leaders Rebecca Mihopoulos and Suzy Cieslica have been working with Strategies for Children Early Education for All Campaign Director Amy O’Leary and Director of Research and Policy Titus DosRemedios for a year to obtain data and learn how to push the idea forward in Northborough. They have met with school administration, parents and state elected officials.

Currently, Northborough offers free half-day kindergarten, but parents must pay $3,250 to extend to full day. Out of 315 Massachusetts public school districts offering full-day kindergarten, there are only 45 still charging tuition, including Northborough.

A working group was formed to look at feasible options and presented at a school committee meeting last November. One option is to adopt a transition model as other neighboring towns, including Southborough, have used to gradually reduce tuition each year.

“It may not happen for my children,” said Mihopoulos, “but it’s a matter of principle that all children should be on the same playing field academically, socially and emotionally.”

DosRemedios had data that showed full-day kindergarten students learn more in reading and math over the school year than those in half-day programs, and those in full-day receive up to 50 percent more instruction than their half-day peers.

Additional data showed teachers report that full-day kindergarten is more beneficial in helping students transition to first grade and 81 percent of Massachusetts voters support it for all children.

The percent of Massachusetts Public School full-day kindergarten students has grown in 11 years from 29 to 96 percent.

“The trend is strong and steady,” said DosRemedios. “The trend is to eliminate tuition.”

For FY19, 10 districts eliminated tuition and 293 communities are tuition-free, including surrounding towns Hudson, Berlin, Marlborough, Hopkinton, Grafton and Boylston.

Mihopoulos and Cieslica said the push is for the next district budget conversation with the goal of implementation for FY20.

The group is asking for comments and stories from anyone who is in support of this effort to continue the momentum.

Northborough K-8 School Committee member Joan Frank and Regional School Committee member Jack Kane encouraged parents to be aware and a part of the budget process.

“Families move into Northborough because of the highly rated schools,” said Cieslica. “Tuition-free kindergarten will make us a more desirable place to live.”

Send comments to the group and view the PowerPoint presentation on Facebook at “Northborough for Full Day Kindergarten.”