The Business of Kindergarten: Loudoun’s $20 million-a-year Industry

There is a 12-letter word that Lyla Hafeez looks for in headlines these days: kindergarten.

As county government and school leaders debate whether Loudoun should expand its full-day kindergarten offerings, and how to pay for it, she’s paid attention. Because whatever decision is ultimately made will impact her 4-year-old daughter’s education, and the Hafeezs’ pocketbook.

If Loudoun County Public Schools’ plan to expand full-day kindergarten to all but 13 schools this fall is funded, Marina will go to her neighborhood school, Sycolin Creek Elementary near Leesburg. If it’s not, she’ll go to a Fairfax County elementary school, where Hafeez teaches, and pay $10,000 in tuition.

“This is on a lot of parents’ minds right now,” Hafeez said.

She and her husband have already started making room in their budget for tuition, just in case. He returned a new car, in exchange for one with a less-expensive monthly payment, and they’re reining in other expenses too.

“We even contemplated pulling from her college fund but we decided no, we’ll just make due with whatever we can for now,” she said. “It is frustrating to spend all this money we thought we were going to save.”

For many local families, footing the bill for private school is the only option for their kindergartner to receive a full, six-hour school day. Loudoun is one of only three school divisions in Virginia that do not offer universal full-day kindergarten.

About one-quarter of Loudoun kindergartners are enrolled in private schools or neighboring jurisdictions, and paying anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 in tuition. That means, collectively, Loudoun families spend about $20.6 million in full-day kindergarten tuition, according to Lindsay Weissbratten, founder of the advocate group Loudoun for Full Day Kindergarten.

“Families are already paying taxes,” she said, “and then they’re paying tuition to receive the same education provided for free in neighboring counties.”

Families in Limbo

Loudoun County has made some progress toward universal full-day kindergarten.

Two years ago, 11 percent of the county’s kindergartners attended school all day. This year, it’s up to 32 percent, or 1,536 students. The school system is requesting $9.7 million to expand the program to 75 percent of kindergartners next school year.

But it’s too early to know whether the Board of Supervisors will back enough funding to pay for it. Supervisors vote on their budget in April.

That makes it difficult for families to plan.

It’s enrollment season for most private schools, and Weissbratten, seen as an expert on the kindergarten issue in Loudoun, has been asked by many parents whether they should register their child in private schools or hold out for a full-day program at their nearby public school.

She recommends they enroll in a private program, just in case.

“People really need to assume they’re not going to get it,” she said. “I get it. The deposits are big—like $800 at some schools. That’s a lot of money to lose, but you don’t want to hope that you get full-day kindergarten and then miss out.”

Nicole Majak, who’s facing that dilemma, said she’d rather not lose out on a deposit. “We’ll probably just take our chances.”

Kindergartner Peyton Smith makes chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine's Day during class at Loudoun County Day School in Leesburg. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Kindergartner Peyton Smith shows off  her tasty class project at Loudoun County Day School in Leesburg. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

She is leaning toward not signing her 4-year-old daughter up for private school, in hopes that Algonkian Elementary will offer a full-day program. This year, her son attends kindergarten at Algonkian for three hours a day, before he hops on the bus at 11 a.m. to spend the last half of his day at Chesterbrook Academy.

“It’s a long day,” Majak said, “and he has different teachers and different friends.”

She said it’s not about the money. She wishes the school system would allow parents to pay for their kindergartners to attend a full day. Then, they would get more enrichment programs like art and music, and they would attend with the students who will be their classmates throughout elementary school.

“It’s silly to me that we live in the richest county in the country and our kids go to kindergarten for three hours a day,” she said. “They miss out on a lot.”

Impact on Private Schools

Private schools are following Loudoun’s kindergarten debate just as much as families with young children.

As more kindergartners can get a full day at their neighborhood public school, some predict a drop in private schools’ enrollment. Sam Adamo, executive director of planning for Loudoun County Public Schools, expects about 920 students more, or 18 percent of all Loudoun kindergartners, will enroll in public schools if the majority offer full-day kindergarten.

“I think they are definitely going to take a hit,” Hafeez said. “If your local public schools are really good, why would you opt to send your kid to a private school?”

Adela Taboada, owner of Primrose School of Ashburn and Primrose School of Ashburn at Broadlands, expects many families will still pay the $400 a week because of the quality of education offered there.

“They see the difference and they value that,” she said. “They’ll say I’m not buying a new car, this is worth it. One parent said, ‘we’re investing early now so that later on when it’s their turn to go to college they can get a scholarship.’”

Loudoun Country Day School Headmaster Randy Hollister said it’s difficult to know how the school’s enrollment will be impacted. Each year, a few families enroll in the school, and pay the $24,985 tuition, just for the full-day kindergarten program and then return to public school by first grade. But that’s becoming more rare.

A number of families have told him they planned to just stay for kindergarten but stayed on because of the school’s emphasis on hands-on learning, public speaking and community service. “That is very gratifying,” he said.

Kindergartner Dominic Perez makes chocolate-covered strawberries during class at Loudoun County Day School.(Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Kindergartner Dominic Perez makes chocolate-covered strawberries during class at Loudoun County Day School.(Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Ken Nysmith, headmaster at Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, offered some comforting words for Loudoun private schools. When Fairfax County Public Schools moved to universal full-day kindergarten in 2011, the private school lost just a handful of students.

The key, he added, is Nysmith offers something different than public schools, and Loudoun’s private schools would need to continue meeting a need the public school system can’t.

“It certainly means they need to differentiate themselves,” he said. “But let’s face it, none of us would be in business if the public schools were doing everything that parents wanted.”

‘We’re Not Done Yet’

Weissbratten is hopeful that the days of private school tuition as her only option for full-day kindergarten will soon be over. She said when the School Board adopted the superintendent’s plan to expand the program to 75 percent of kindergartners, she was stunned. “I was just speechless. I’m so happy for the progress,” she said. “But we’re not done yet. We need supervisors to approve the $1 billion budget.”

That would provide a six-hour school day to all but 1,280 Loudoun kindergartners.  Proponents of full-day kindergarten face a larger, and more costly, hurdle to extend the program countywide. School leaders have said it would cost another $6.8 million just in salaries and supplies to expand to universal kindergarten. But that doesn’t include the cost of building the extra classroom additions needed at several central and southern Loudoun schools, that would likely add several million more dollars.

“Each year, we’re making progress,” Weissbratten said. “We’ll get there.”

3 thoughts on “The Business of Kindergarten: Loudoun’s $20 million-a-year Industry

  • 2016-02-17 at 5:48 pm

    What a hatchet job. This is like a letter to the editor from the unions. Besides only telling one side, let’s count all the falsehoods:

    1. “only option to receive a full six-hour day”. Recall that LCPS claims they have to “stuff” all the academics into just 3 hours and the kids miss out on things like recess, art, and socialization. So what exactly do kids do at those afterschool programs? RECESS, ART and SOCIALIZATION at much, much lower costs. Pants on fire!

    2. Weisbratten claims families are paying $20.6M for private kindergarten (this is the lady who posted a picture of herself in a destroyed kitchen with her kids – no wonder she wants to dump them on the schools if she can’t handle being a stay-at-home mom). Whoever heard of paying $25K for kindergarten?! That’s highway robbery. But it’s not even accurate. Those programs go from morning to evening. They are essentially full-day daycare with kindergarten in the middle. Thus, the true cost is much less than reported but don’t expect a journalist or a failed stay-at-home mom to be able to calculate that.

    3. Nicole Majak complains of the “long day” for her son but then WANTS FDK instead of just 3 hours of kindergarten! Say what! What she really wants is some free daycare paid for by the taxpayers. Btw, Nicole, are your kids “missing out” on all those activities that the Finnish kids are getting? They don’t start kindergarten till six years old and they seem to do quite well. But never let the lack of ANY research whatsoever get in the way of making completely unfounded statements and having a reporter publish them.

    4. “One parent said we’re investing now… so they can get a scholarship”?! Listen lady, schools don’t give out academic scholarships. The only reason they give these out is to prevent your kid from attending a more selective school and improving their credibility. In order to get an academic scholarship, you either need to be a minority or settle for a lower school. Is that what you are suggesting? Or did some salesperson at the private K tell you that nonsense?

    5. Weisbretten, it’s not $1.00B. That would be roughly the cost if we LCSB had met the BOS fiscal guidance. Instead, it’s another $60M higher! That’s another 6%+ tacked on.

    I guess education articles don’t need to be accurate with facts, cite any alternative views (how about the parents who spoke out about wanting to keep HDK as an option), or provide any research whatsoever to substantiate their views that FDK improves performance.

    In related news, all parents who want even more handouts can browse on over to freeloaders(dot)com.

  • 2016-02-18 at 11:55 am

    What our resident FDK troll virginia_sgp seems to miss (consistently) is that full day kindergarten is not “state-sponsored daycare”, it is school! Public education. Does virginia_sgp also advocate for half day 6th grade, or half day high school? What makes kindergarten any different than any other grade in school? virginia_sgp’s answer is probably the age of the student. Mostly 5 and 6 (my child will be almost 6). Again I ask, what makes a 5 or 6 year old any different than an 8 or 14 year old? Why must younger children suffer from a lack of schooling because of their age?

    No, I’m not arguing for 3 year olds to be in full day school (although most of us dual income families do have to put them in full day childcare, although these schools allow for naptime, playtime, art, music, dance, etc.). Although I would argue that for some students ages 4 and 5, pre-K is an incredible opportunity to learn. Most of these students come from lower income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. I’d like to see Loudoun offer universal pre-K as well. I for one would sign my child up for pre-K if it was universal.

    My biggest complaint with the whole Loudoun FDK issue is that it seems that only the economically disadvantaged get to take part. My family is dual income, we must be since neither can make enough to support a family (one child mind you!) in Loudoun on a decent paycheck, when you calculate paying for student loans, which are necessary to get the degrees required to get a job in the DC metro area (bachelors = high school diploma, masters = bachelors). So even though we make over 6 figures together, we still struggle to pay for childcare for one child ($10,000+ a year). We chose a good childcare center that offers a great education at a great price. Most other childcare centers of equal educational level are much higher than that ($2,000+ a month!). What working class parents can actually afford this type of childcare?

    virginia_sgp would say, “well just stay home and be a mom, since you CHOSE to have children, you CHOSE to pay for them”. All of this is so virginia_sgp doesn’t have to pay taxes to support my child in pre-K or kindergarten? I’m guessing virginia_sgp is a man, as I would be disgusted to hear any woman from the 21st century tell me, a highly educated woman (masters degree) to just stay home and be a mother because virginia_sgp can’t handle a small tax hike. I’m also guessing virginia_sgp doesn’t have children. If virginia_sgp does and still says that half day education is “good enough”, then I’m loathe to see how virginia_sgp’s children fared in their schooling? Did they go to private school? Did they go to public school? If so, I’m hoping virginia_sgp made sure they took advantage of every little activity offered since virginia_sgp was “paying” for this schooling. Also, what type of income does virginia_sgp bring in? Is this person making 100K+ by themselves? If so, great for you! Not everyone can make that. It shouldn’t be only families who make a lot of money who should have access to quality education. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be just the low income people who get access to all of the “handouts” as virginia_sgp would put it. Everyone should get access. My child deserves quality FDK just as much as his lower income neighbors.

    Public education has always been based on property taxes. We all contribute so that the children of the next generation can benefit. If virginia_sgp cannot stomach spending his/her taxes on education for our children, why doesn’t virginia_sgp think about leaving Loudoun for somewhere else. I however moved to Loudoun for the great schools, the affordable homes, and the vibrant communities (Leesburg especially). Yes I gripe about taxes too, but I went to public school and I think they are vital to the continued success of the American way. Without excellent public schools our children are doomed to fail. The average private school in this county is $25,000-$30,000 a year! That is more than a year at most state universities? If you have the means to send to private school, by all means, do it, but for those of us who cannot afford those schools, we want excellent public schools. Excellent schools include full day kindergarten, and hopefully one day, pre-K.

    The article in question was not a very well written article, as virginia_sgp noted. The person quoted does not seem to be the best example. Why doesn’t Loudoun Now come and interview some of us dual income families making over 100K together who are still struggling with childcare costs?

    I’m not advocating for FDK because I can’t handle my kid, or can’t handle being a mom. I’m advocating for FDK because education is the road that leads to success for everyone. I came from a single parent home (father died) and went to a public school. I made it into a very selective college, graduated, proceeded on to a masters degree, graduated, and landed a very nice job in this region. Nothing about my story says “lived with a silver spoon in my mouth”. In fact, my family would’ve qualified for reduced lunches (the criteria for Loudoun kids to get into FDK), although we never took it, so that the truly needy kids had it (I lived in a small town where there were some families that didn’t even have running water!). I made it where I am today because of my mother’s emphasis on a good education!

    I’m not advocating for “even more handouts”. I’m a home-owning, tax paying, fiscal conservative. BUT I am also a highly educated mother with high aspirations for my child. I want my child to have the best possible education for what I can afford, exactly what my mother wanted for me. I chose Loudoun because of its highly rated public schools. Now it is time for Loudoun residents to stop whining about taxes and stand up and do what is right for our children. Full day kindergarten is what is right for our children.

  • 2016-02-21 at 9:23 am

    BBLR65, I’ll credit you for a detailed response. And kudos to you for your success while coming from a very modest background. But it seems you have changed your perspective after becoming a parent. Answers to your questions:

    1. I am a father of 2 children in elementary school (Seldens Landing) in Ashburn.

    2. School has historically started in the 1st grade around age 6. Kindergarten was, until recently, never full-day. Even in Finland today, their kids don’t start school until age 6. Many think we already have too much focus on academic instruction at such young ages and children should be playing by themselves instead. It costs $25-30K/yr for a daycare provider instead of the $95K/yr for a certified teacher. If you wish, just have your kid start in 1st grade if they are near the cut off. That’s allowed and you can get custodial care for your child all day long.

    3. You state that “most of these children” are disadvantaged. That’s false and you have no facts to support that.

    4. You say you would sign up for universal pre-K if it were offered. Tell us, is there any handout that you wouldn’t take if it were offered? If Bernie offered your kids free college on the dime of some nebulous “rich folks”, would you take it? If Hillary offered you a free house on the backs of those “fat cats”, would you take it? Do you have any self respect left?

    5. You say you get a great education at a decent price at your childcare center. Hint: there is virtually no data to support that. Your daycare is giving you a great sales job. I sent my kids to preschool for 3 days/wk for half days at a church. Those teachers were great and extremely affordable. But in the end, I can show you ample evidence that it is your influence most of all at a young age which will make the difference.

    6. I don’t do private schools (well, outside Louisiana). And no, while you are paying real estate taxes, you are not paying your “fair share”. Two kids in the schools cost $25K/yr+. You contribute at most $5-6K/yr. Over the 12 years your kids are in school, you will not pay for their education. You, just like all the socialists out there, want OTHER PEOPLE to pay for the best of the best education for your kids. No cost is too big and no detail is too small for your kids. Just like your Soc Sec and Medicare taxes will not pay for all the benefits you will eventually receive, you must count on the “fat cats” to pay part of your costs. Bernie would be proud to have your support.

    Your position is quite succinctly stated by saying you want the “best education” based on what you can afford. You think Loudoun taxpayers should pony up for that education simply because you moved out here. They should shut up and pay for the best of the best. Hint: we are not getting the best despite the high costs. Highly effective teachers inspire kids and add $250K/yr in lifetime income for their students every single year. But LCPS doesn’t objectively evaluate its teachers and rates 99.5% of them as effective. Nobody believes that. I have advocated for hiring more talented teachers, objectively rating them, and providing them material/support so they can be more effective. LCPS refuses. You are getting propaganda about great schools that simply masks the demands of a union asking for even bigger handouts than you are. Those teachers retire at 52 yrs old making $50K+/yr in a lifetime pension. Do you get that kind of deal? They think it’s not enough and we should each pay an extra $150/yr so they can get an even bigger retirement!!!

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