If you've got a kindergartner in public school in Jackson County today, his day might run as long as that of older students.

If you've got a kindergartner in public school in Jackson County today, his day might run as long as that of older students.

If it does, you're not paying for the privilege.

That, despite a lot of confusion and disagreement about "full-day" kindergarten around Oregon at the moment, is how it should stay, at least until Oregon's Legislature commits public money to pay for the program.

But it's not how it works in some other parts of the state. In Portland, for example, some districts that have decided to increase the number of hours kindergartners are in class charge parents as much as $300 a month for the service.

In Jackson County, some schools with large numbers of kids from low-income families use federal Title I money to provide all-day kindergarten, but they're the exception, not the rule.

Oregon lawmakers, in their just-ended mini session, attempted to clear up questions about the legality of the pay-to-study system by approving legislation that says charging for all-day kindergarten is OK.

We're not sure it clears up much of anything, except maybe that legislators and parents are desperate to give Oregon's youngest students a leg up in academics. They haven't been able to figure out the right way to do that, so they went with a pitiful Plan B.

What's wrong with letting parents pay tuition to keep their kindergartners in class all day long? It's that public education is supposed to be available to everyone, regardless of the size of their bank account.

Research is clear that a full day (about six hours) of kindergarten helps children academically. It also is clear that the starter level of school ain't what it used to be, a couple hours of play. In the Rogue Valley today, most districts attempt to have children reading by the end of kindergarten in preparation for tests they'll face later.

Children whose parents have more money statistically already have some advantages over their poorer peers. Should they have even more because they can afford a longer school day? Isn't that system called private education?

Should students pay who want to enroll in AP classes? How about if they want better textbooks?

Don't get us wrong: We think Oregon does need to move toward a longer school day for all its kindergartners. Most other states already provide all-day kindergarten, recognition that the old model doesn't address modern requirements.

But that effort should start with a legislative discussion about how it can be funded. Lawmakers should find a way to offer full-day kindergarten statewide. Until they can, they shouldn't let parents with more money buy extra education.