Tuition is expected to rise by 15 percent, to $2,720 per year, as part of a gradual plan to eliminate the district's subsidy of the program.

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Seattle parents worried about rising fees for full-day kindergarten classes in the city’s public schools can take solace in the fact that they’re still paying less than what parents are paying in the suburbs.

A Seattle School Board committee recently voted to significantly increase all-day kindergarten fees for next school year, taking the second step in a three-year plan to eliminate the district’s subsidy of the program, School Board President Michael DeBell said.

If approved by the full board, families next year will be required to pay as much as $2,720 per year — $272 per month for 10 months — to move their child from half-day kindergarten, which all students receive, to a full-day program.

That’s about 15 percent higher than last year’s rate of $2,370 and about 31 percent higher than tuition for the year before, $2,070. And tuition is almost certain to rise another 15 percent the following year, DeBell said.

Students receiving federally subsidized free or reduced-price lunch still would not have to pay for full-day kindergarten, and all children at schools with a high rate of students on free or reduced lunch would get the service for free as well.

The fees exist because the Legislature provides local school districts only with funding for a half-day of kindergarten. Districts, in turn, look to families for help.

The practice is controversial because many education experts believe full-day kindergarten should be available to all; research has clearly shown that kindergartners who participate in all-day programs perform significantly higher on tests for years afterward.

In recent years, lawmakers have moved toward funding full-day kindergarten but so far have allocated funding only for full-day programs at high-poverty schools.

Seattle’s fee, while higher than in previous years, is still lower than in many suburban districts, most of which charge annual fees of $3,000 or more.

Families in the Bellevue, Lake Washington and Snohomish school districts, for example, pay about $3,300 per year, according to spokeswomen for each district. In Lake Washington and Snohomish, students on free or reduced-price lunch can receive the full-day program for less. In Bellevue, it is free to these students.

In Issaquah, tuition is $3,600 plus a nonrefundable bookkeeping fee of $75.

On the other end of the spectrum, Federal Way Public Schools offers full-day kindergarten for free to many students and $2,300 for others.

The Kent, Tacoma and Spokane school districts each make it free to all students by reallocating items in their general budget.

Seattle Public Schools officials recognize the importance of full-day kindergarten and would like to make it free but simply can’t afford to do so in the current budget climate, district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said.

But some parents around the Puget Sound area are frustrated by the fees.

“Why are we being held accountable for budget cuts?” said Kristy Steiner, a parent of a 5-year-old in the Lake Washington School District. “I don’t understand it. It’s supposed to be public school.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.