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District finds funding to keep all-day kindergarten

Philadelphia parents who have worried for the last several weeks whether they'd have to pay for private kindergarten or move out of the city can now breathe a little easier.

Philadelphia parents who have worried for the last several weeks whether they'd have to pay for private kindergarten or move out of the city can now breathe a little easier.

"This is really great news for parents," said Kevin Peter, a parent activist and father of a student at Masterman School. "We need our city and state and, now, our federal government to come up with enough funding for our schools and we need the school district to make good choices with that money.

"This is a great example of all of them coming together."

Peter was among the parents and clergy invited to the school district's announcement yesterday that state officials have approved a rule change to allow using federal Title I money to pay for full-day kindergarten.

"For me, it is was important to get full-day kindergarten as a permanent fixture in our allocation of Title I funds," said Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. "This was not an option three days ago."

Ackerman said she called state education department officials late yesterday morning and the approval came early in the afternoon. She said she was prepared to go directly to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to argue her case if necessary.

The $25 million to keep full-day kindergarten - the district had threatened to only offer half-day kindergarten to help fill a $629 million deficit - will have to be taken from other programs.

Ackerman conceded that budget problems remain and that layoff notices will be delivered to teachers and some staffers in administration offices by Monday.

"At least with the kindergarten teachers, we don't have to give out those letters," she said.

Hundreds of teachers are expected to get notices, but the number that actually lose their job may change depending on the final amount the state gives the district.

"We have a lot of work still to do," said Mayor Nutter, who proposed a second-straight 10 percent property-tax hike, a soda tax and parking-meter rate hikes this week to help bail out the district.

"As pleased as I am about today's announcement, that does not in any way, shape or form lessen the challenge in front of us and the responsibility for all of us in [City Hall] and certainly in Harrisburg to look out for the best interest of the young people here."

But many on Council are now wondering how much extra money the district actually needs.

"One of the main concerns was full-day kindergarten, take that out of the picture and I hope we can do without raising taxes," said Councilman Bill Greenlee.

Councilman Bill Green said that the district could get more money without the city having to raise taxes again by trimming away more of its fat. He pointed to the district's communications office, the budget for which is set to rise 21 percent to $2.86 million next year.

"The mayor's proposal was a knee-jerk reaction to increase taxes rather than through discussions," Green said.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chair of Council's education committee, stood beside Ackerman for most of yesterday's news conference.

"We are overjoyed," Blackwell said. "This is an example of good minds working together. . . . If we continue to work together, we can all win."

Cheryl Dore, the mother of three public-school children, said she wanted to send a message that "this fight is just not over."

"This is a wonderful step for Philadelphia, but we don't want people to think this is just a Philadelphia issue," Dore said. "It has to be a joint cooperative effort from everyone to let these politicians [in Harrisburg] know we're not going to sit quietly while they cut education."