When it comes to teaching the ABCs and 123s, Sharon Michael is passionate about her job at Acacia Elementary School in Phoenix.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher of little, little kids, but kindergarten found me. I love to see the growth that they make from the beginning to the end," gushed Michael.

The kindergarten teacher is just as passionate about her students receiving full-day instruction.

“It's imperative. A lot of the times in kindergarten, we get students who come to us with varied backgrounds. They come in at various levels and so that full day really helps them to grow academically,” explains Michael.

She’s convinced children this age benefit in many ways from more hours in the classroom, where learning has gone way beyond finger-painting and recess.

“I think that it really teaches the whole child socially, emotionally and academically. I think the demands for education in every grade are excelling. And they're getting harder and harder and, likewise, kindergarten is getting more difficult," said Michael.

At a recent breakfast, state and education leaders acknowledge full-day kindergarten is critical to a student’s future success.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow said the most important predictor of a student’s educational and economic success is that child’s vocabulary at the age of 4.

"You cannot make an investment more important than investing in a child," Crow told the crowd in September.

Even the governor weighed in on the importance of full-day kindergarten.

“As we look at further targeted investment in K-12 education, my hope is that more schools will offer these programs to students,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “There's no issue more unifying or more pressing than early literacy."

Yet funding for full-day kindergarten was cut in 2010 and now the state only pays for a half-day of kindergarten. Educators all agree the 2.5 hours a day is not nearly enough.

"It's terrible. It makes me so sad for these children. I don't think we're setting them up with a strong foundation,” said Michael.

At Acacia, the Washington Elementary School District lost around $5 million. An override already in place allowed them to keep the full-day kindergarten going, which came with its own price tag.

“Unfortunately, though, when full-day kindergarten money went away, we had to give up some of the things that the override was paying for such as reduced class size and academic intervention,” said Cathy Thompson, the district’s director of business services.

Today, like other districts, they fund full-day kindergarten through their maintenance and operations budget.

Other districts were forced to make parents pick up the tab for the other half day. That meant families who couldn’t afford it were at a major disadvantage when it came to meeting rigorous new standards.

“We owe our children a great start. In the state of Arizona, there are nine subjects that have state standards associated with them that students are supposed to master beginning in kindergarten,” explained Mesa Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Cowan.

He was also a speaker at the breakfast in September, stressing the necessity of full-day kindergarten over only 150 minutes of half-day instruction.

“There's just no way. There's not enough hours in the day. The teacher doesn't have the time to really target all of those things that each student needs,” said Michael.

Now, new money could be coming to Arizona’s kindergarteners. That’s what on the table if Proposition 205 passes and recreational marijuana becomes legal.

“This state has done a horrible job of funding our education across the board. That's a simple fact. And a big part of that has been a lack of funding for full-day kindergarten," said J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

The father of three says taking drug money off the streets and putting it into the classroom is a no-brainer.

“The choice that we have is that we either send these dollars to our schools or we send them to criminal drug cartels,” said Holyoak.

The top education leader in our state is not on board.

"Superintendent (Diane) Douglas has come out vocally against that. She is not supportive of marijuana funding education,” said Alexis Susdorf, a communication specialist for the Arizona Department of Education.

“This is part of the problem. This is why we don't have the funding for education when the superintendent of schools is saying ‘no’ to dollars,” said Holyoak.

And Douglas is not necessarily pushing for full-day kindergarten either. When asked if the superintendent thought it was critical, her spokesperson said allowing a parent to choose what’s best was more important.

“There is scientific evidence there. But at the same time, putting science aside, Superintendent Douglas does want to maintain that parent's choice aspect of it,” said Susdorf.

The Arizona Department of Education does not keep track of which of Arizona’s 230 school districts offer free, full-day kindergarten. They also couldn’t say how much it would cost to bring it back.

Holyoak acknowledges Arizona’s own estimate of $27 million a year from pot revenue specifically earmarked for full-day kindergarten is only a portion of what’s needed.

“It's not enough. No question about it. It's not enough. But it's a start. It's money that's going in the right direction," Holyoak said.

In November voters, will decide if that direction is the right way to go.

RELATED: Recreational marijuana: Question and answer guide to Prop. 205 Fact check: Marijuana tax claim a puff of smoke in Prop 205 ad Colorado leaders ask Arizonans to vote no on legalizing marijuana Arizona Supreme Court says legal marijuana measure on ballot Marijuana measure closer to realityCopyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Recommended for you