LOCK HAVEN -You ever see that "Lord of the Rings" movie where the wizard Gandalf holds his staff high over his head, challenges the menacing, demonic and fire shrouded Balrog, while exclaiming, "You Shall Not Pass!!"?
That's Keystone Central School District Superintendent Kelly Hastings - at least when it comes to the local district's kindergarten program.
Hastings might chuckle at the image, but she remains adamant this year - just as she maintained during last year's difficult budget deliberations - that the full-day kindergarten program is too critically important to fall victim to fiscal concerns.
"Absolutely the last resort," she said, "Cutting to half a day? That would not be my recommendation, because it's too important to our success."
The statement was made this week as the local school board continues to pore over its budget figures, after the governor released the state's proposed spending plan this week.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's budget, which was released earlier this month, promises "level funding" for education, meaning schools should get no more or less than they received last year.
But financial experts say districts throughout the state stand to lose out on money that helps fund all-day kindergarten and Head Start programs.
"Honestly, I can say that full-time kindergarten is absolutely the last place I would look if I were to examine budget savings," Hastings said. "Every study I've seen says full-time kindergarten is an educational bargain ... We get $17 of benefit for every dollar we spend there."
Hastings said early development and early education have a proven track record for creating students who are adept at learning - at least more so than very young students who attend half-day kindergarten.
However, schools receiving the accountability block grant have been told they won't be receiving any funding from that line item next year.
This year, as last year, Keystone Central stands to lose some $800,000 to $900,000 as the state zeroes out the accountability block grant the district uses to fund full-time kindergarten.
The grant was marked for destruction last year but, Hastings said, saw a bit of restoration in negotiations between the state' General Assembly and the Corbett administration.
Last year, statewide funding for Accountability Block Grants, was restored to $100 million, but it was still cut by $159 million in the final budget, or 61 percent.
The governor's plan to defund the grant entirely this year still needs approval from state lawmakers.
Some educators argue that a half-day program is less expensive and provides an adequate educational and social experience for young children while orienting them to school, especially if they have attended preschool.
According to KidSource, a nonprofit information clearing house for parents, full-day kindergartners exhibited more independent learning, classroom involvement, productivity in work with peers, and reflectiveness than half-day kindergartners. Full-timers were also more likely to approach the teacher, and expressed less withdrawal, anger, shyness, and blaming behavior.