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Bedford slashes cost of all-day kindergarten for low income families

Union Leader Correspondent

April 16. 2018 9:44PM

BEDFORD - Although Bedford is still charging for kindergarten students to participate in the district's full-day kindergarten program, school officials have decided to drastically reduce the cost for financially-challenged families.

As Nashua, Merrimack, Litchfeild and other communities throughout southern New Hampshire begin to implement free, full-day public kindergarten, Bedford still charges $5,250 per year for students to enroll in its K-Plus program.

Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, however, have been eligible for the K-Plus program at a discounted tuition rate of $2,625. Last week, school officials voted to significantly reduce the discount from 50 percent off to 90 percent off, meaning families that qualify for free and reduced lunch will now pay $525 per year for their child to attend public, all-day kindergarten in the Bedford School District.

"The fees at 50 percent are still high for people who cannot afford it. This is trying to allow these programs to be an option for more families that need it," said Maggie Duprey, business administrator for the district.

Although Duprey was originally suggesting a 75 percent discount, the school board agreed that a 90 percent discount would be more appropriate.

There are 107 students who participate in the K-Plus program, which has generated about $545,417 in revenue so far this year.

Bill Kassler, school board member, suggested the 90 percent discount. He said the change would keep a nominal cost to demonstrate that there is value to the program, but also provide enough of a price reduction so that most of the families who qualify for free and reduced lunch could take advantage of full-day kindergarten.

"It is the right thing to do," agreed Bill Foote, school board member.

Mike Jette, assistant superintendent, said the number of families in Bedford who qualify for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has increased in the past four years.

Families that are struggling financially should still have the option of sending their children to all-day kindergarten in an effort to prepare them for first-grade, explained Kassler.

The board also voted to provide a greater discount for students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch to participate in the district's Bedford Early Education Program, known as BEEP.

BEEP is designed for not only traditional students, but those with educational disabilities as well.

Cindy Chagnon, board member, said that by enrolling these students at a younger age of 3, 4 or 5, and by encouraging them to participate in full-day kindergarten, they will be more prepared for their elementary years. Otherwise, Chagnon said those students are facing an uphill battle when entering first-grade.

In addition, she said it could eliminate the need to invest future resources in services like math or reading tutors.

BEEP costs $2,500 a year per student for the five days per week program, and $1,450 a year for the two days per week program. Under the newly revised fee, the five day program would cost students who qualify for free and reduced lunch $250 a year, while the two-day program would cost $145 a year.

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