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NH Passes Full Day Kindergarten, Sort Of

Yesterday, the Senate passed SB 191 also known as “Keno-garten” to partially fund full-day kindergarten in New Hampshire.

The bill would pay a portion of the costs ($1,100 of the $1,800 per pupil) to expand half-day kindergarten to full day with revenue generated through the state’s new Keno lottery.  There are no guarantees that Keno revenue will be enough to fund the program in the coming years and the bill still does not require all NH schools to expand kindergarten to a full day program.

The National Education Association of NH, representing thousands of educators across the state, explained the dilemma over SB 191 in their open letter urging legislators to support SB191.

“To be clear, SB 191 as amended by the Committee of Conference, is not perfect. NEA-New Hampshire has always, and will always continue, to advocate that full day kindergarten be funded in full in the same manner as all other grades. However, NEA-NH also recognizes sometimes you have to compromise in the process of getting to your ultimate goal.

SB 191 is just such a compromise. Yes, it does not guarantee full funding of kindergarten, and yes, the funding mechanism is not necessarily the one I would have chosen. But it is also the largest step New Hampshire has ever taken toward fully funding full day kindergarten that has occurred since I began teaching 18 years ago.

…New Hampshire’s current method of kindergarten funding puts an enormous burden on the 70% of New Hampshire municipalities (covering 80% of New Hampshire’s students) that have voluntarily elected to offer full day kindergarten. SB 191 will provide significant tax relief to those towns, and hopefully, encourage the remaining cities and towns to adopt full day kindergarten as well.

NEA-New Hampshire believes that all school districts should offer full day kindergarten. While passage of SB 191 does not accomplish that goal, it certainly puts New Hampshire much, much closer to reaching it than we ever have before.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn is disappointed that Republicans refused to adopt a fully funded, full day kindergarten program and vows to continue to push for a fully funded, mandatory full day kindergarten program.

“Senate Democrats have been leading advocates for Kindergarten, and for fully funding full-day Kindergarten, for many years — we know this issue well and we know what this means for our communities. Passing full funding for full-day Kindergarten should have been an easy task. Governor Sununu promised to support it during his campaign and full funding for full-day Kindergarten passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.”

“It’s disappointing that in the final hour, Governor Sununu and Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by removing full-day Kindergarten from the budget, abandoning full funding, and choosing to push a half-measure tied to Keno. Make no mistake, SB 191 does not fully fund full-day Kindergarten. But, Democrats will continue to lead the fight for full funding for full-day Kindergarten with no strings attached.”

NH Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley highlighted that newly elected Governor Chris Sununu campaigned heavily on expanding kindergarten and has “broken a key campaign promise.”

“The governor broke a key campaign promise today. Instead of the fully-funded full day kindergarten he pledged on the campaign trail, he offered a half-measure and turned a blind eye while Republicans gutted even that. Because of Sununu’s abject failure to lead, Democrats were forced to pick up the pieces and salvage what was left for the sake of our kids. Governor Sununu and the Republicans always seem to make common sense a complicated calculus. While Democratic leaders would simply pass fully-funded full day kindergarten, Republicans need to cut it in half, tie it to gambling measures, and beg their members to vote yes. Real reform requires real champions, and Republicans are anything but.”

After the bill passed NEA-New Hampshire praised its passage.

“NEA-New Hampshire applauds the passage of SB 191, and thanks Governor Sununu and the bi-partisan coalition of legislators for finally putting New Hampshire on the path to full day kindergarten,” said Megan Tuttle, President of NEA-NH. “The benefits of full-day kindergarten are clear. Those students that attend full-day kindergarten are better prepared to enter first grade, have a higher high school graduation rate and are more likely to go to college. Full day kindergarten is a sound educational investment and I am thrilled that the legislators in Concord have recognized that.”

Now that the bill has passed questions still remain about the constitutionality of the legislation.  Andru Volinsky, Executive Councilor, and the lead lawyer in the Claremont education funding case of 1997, told WMUR last week that the bill is unconstitutional.

… Senate Bill 191 fails to meet the standard set out in the landmark 1997 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in the Claremont school funding case requiring the state to provide and fund a constitutionally adequate education to all students.

….The Claremont ruling did not specifically refer to kindergarten, but it did say that the state’s system of funding “elementary and secondary public education” at the time, almost entirely through property taxes, was unconstitutional.

“Full-day kindergarten is part of a constitutionally adequate education,” Volinsky said Friday. “And once you understand that concept, you understand that the state must pay for constitutional adequacy.”

Volinsky also said, by failing to fully fund, full day kindergarten local school districts who choose to expand kindergarten will be putting even more “burden on local taxpayers”.

For those that have already chosen to expand kindergarten programs, this bill is a step in the right direction but it does not go as far as it should. This bill will help the 70% of school districts that already offer full day kindergarten.

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About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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