The Butte Falls School District will expand its half-day kindergarten program to a full-day schedule in the fall.

The Butte Falls School District will expand its half-day kindergarten program to a full-day schedule in the fall.

The school system of about 170 pupils in rural northeast Jackson County will join about 80 other school districts in the state that offer full-day kindergarten as a way to boost reading and math skills early. The program won't cost anything, as Butte Falls is rearranging staff rather than adding any.

"It's just really a situation where our kids aren't reading at grade level," said Superintendent Tim Sweeney. "It's across the district. We want to do a better job of giving kids a stronger foundation at an earlier age."

The state funds only half-day kindergarten programs through its per-pupil funding formula. Local and state education officials, including state Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, have been urging state lawmakers to provide full-day funding during a time when schools are under increasing pressure to have students reading even before the first grade. By third grade, students are expected pass standardized tests in reading, and all students will have to show proficiency at grade level by 2014 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Butte Falls' kindergarten teacher had been teaching kindergartners in the morning and instructing second-graders in the afternoon in a blended first- and second-grade class. Next year, first and second grades will be in separate classes, and the kindergarten teacher will teach only kindergartners. Instead, there will be a blended third- and fourth-grade class and a blended fifth- and sixth-grade class.

The kindergarten class, which has about 10 pupils, will now run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday instead of 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

— Paris Achen