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Today’s Kindergarten Lottery: One In Five Will Get A Seat

© Leesburg Today - 06/25/2015

Want full-day kindergarten? Get in line, kiddos. More than 300 youngsters are vying for 59 seats.

Want full-day kindergarten? Get in line, kiddos.

More than 300 youngsters are vying for 59 seats in full-day kindergarten classes this fall. School district leaders held a lottery last week for those seats, available at only 11 of the county's 58 elementary schools.

Names of 305 rising kindergartners were tossed in plastic containers at each of the 11 schools June 25. After a good shake, principals pulled out one little sheet of paper at a time and read the name of the lucky boy or girl who will likely get a six-hour academic day for the 2015-16 school year.

""We just stood by, waiting and hoping,"" said Libby Meurer, who showed up to watch the lottery at Dominion Trail Elementary in Ashburn where her twins will attend this fall.

Her daughter was the seventh name drawn, and her son was the 27th name drawn. School leaders project there will be 11 seats available in a full-day class at Dominion Trail, but that could change as new families move in to, or out of, the school system.

School leaders earmarked $2.5 million in next year's budget to add 45 new full-day kindergarten classrooms in buildings that have space, bringing the total number of Loudoun public school kindergartners who will have access to an extended school day to almost 1,500 out of about 4,880 countywide.

Students considered academically at-risk-those who are just learning English and those who live below or near the poverty line-have first dibs on those seats. From there, the spots will be given to students in the order in which their names were drawn in the lottery.

Families will be notified in early August whether their child made the cut.

Loudoun County is one of three school systems in Virginia that do not offer every kindergartner a full-day program. The small expansion of full-day kindergarten has been described by School Board members as a step toward for eventually rolling out an extended day program countywide.

Full-day kindergarten is likely to be this year's political football. It has been the most cited priority among a field of six dozen candidates for offices from the state to local levels.

Politicians trumpeting the cause can only be a good thing, even if they're running for offices that will not provide them a vote on the matter, according to Lindsay Weissbratten, an Ashburn mother who started a parent advocate group ""Loudoun for Full Day Kindergarten.""

Although the decision to expand a school program is the School Board's, and a vote to fund any such proposal will be up to the county Board of Supervisors, Weissbratten requested help at the state level in the past and may press for it again.

In January 2014, then-Del. Barbara Comstock sponsored a bill that would have required Loudoun school leaders to adopt a plan and timeline in which to offer universal full-day kindergarten. The legislation, which failed in committee, was not popular with local leaders.

""This shouldn't be a state issue, but if the county elected leaders don't do anything, we'll continue going to the state to ask for help,"" Weissbratten said. ""We're not offering equal education to our 5-year-olds, the first year of their schooling. That's got to change.""

Meurer said she would love for every Loudoun kindergartener to have the option to attend a full day of school. Two years ago, her family moved to Loudoun from North Carolina and was surprised to learn, with the move, they'd be giving up full-day kindergarten.

""It's standard there,"" she said.

After a year and a half in preschool, her twins are well adjusted and ready for a longer school day, she added. But if they do not get two of the few sought-after seats this fall, Meurer said she would not enroll them in private school, an option many Loudoun families take to get full-day kindergarten.

""We hope they both get in,"" she said. ""If they don't, well, we'll make the most of it.""

Aligning with most School Board members' priority to first provide an all-day program to students considered academically at-risk, the board voted last week to expand the program at Sterling two schools. Members directed Superintendent Eric Williams to carve out $270,000 in the already-adopted FY16 budget to provide an extended academic day for every kindergartner at Forrest Grove and Sterling elementary schools.

The two schools recently qualified to receive Title I federal funding because of their large percentage of students from low-income families. The school division has provided every kindergartener at its four other Title I schools a full school day for the past two years.

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