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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.

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 6-18-17: Kenogarten And The NH Budget

The 2017 legislative session is nearly completed, with one more scheduled meeting this coming Thursday, June 22, when the House and Senate will each vote on Committee of Conference reports. These reports concern bills where the House and Senate differed over amendments, appointed a committee to try to iron out the disagreements, and the Committee came to a resolution. The resulting bills can now only be voted up or down, no further amendments.

Budget Deal The focus of attention will be on the two-year budget agreement announced yesterday. It is a Republican agreement, providing inadequate funding for battling the state’s opioid crisis, failing to address growing waitlists for mental health treatment, and as usual, generally neglecting to move New Hampshire into the 21st century. But it does include further business tax cuts, most of which flow to large, out-of-state corporations. Democrats appear to be strongly opposed to this agreement, but the real question is whether far-Right Republicans in the House will again revolt against their party leadership. If they do, the budget may fail, forcing the Governor and the Legislature to vote for funding under a continuing resolution, which doles out monies at the rate of the existing budget, broken into 12 monthly increments, and precludes shifting monies to where most needed. Stay tuned.

“Kenogarten” The other headliner of concern to AFT-NH is SB 191 regarding funding for full-day kindergarten. In this case, NH will lead the nation in innovation, since going forward, kindergarten will now be known in the Granite State as “kenogarten.” Why? Because the amendment adopted in the Committee of Conference will not fully fund full-day kindergarten, and the revenue to provide expanded state support for kindergarten will come from keno, an electronic, lottery-style gambling game. The game is quite common in Massachusetts (many bars there have it though why I know that we will leave to idle speculation), but is only now on the precipice of being legalized here in NH. Therefore, NH will now add keno to the lottery as funding sources for education in our state, and our fair state will continue in its fine tradition of encouraging “sin” as a means of funding state operations. Yes, let’s be proud, New Hampshire—we are already known for our interstate rest areas equipped with state liquor stores, and now we can have “kenogarten!” There are also some observers, most notably Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who question the constitutionality of the funding system proposed in this bill, arguing that the State is required to fully fund kindergarten as part of an “adequate education.”

Furthering the absurdity of “kenogarten,” the bill provides that parents be allowed to have their child attend only a half-day. Ah, choice. Not much thought given to the fact that curriculum planning will revolve around a full day, so that a child leaving halfway through each day will be placed in a difficult situation. But then, many who support such an option just see kindergarten as a waste of time, or as Speaker Jasper stated earlier this year, “the capacity of a six year-old to be attentive for a full day in a classroom is pretty much non-existent.” Perhaps the solution shall be to teach the youngsters the rudiments of keno.

Finally, there is HB 620, which began as a proposal to require the State Board of Education to take into account the fiscal impact of rules implementing Federal law but exceeding the minimum Federal requirements. In the Senate, the bill was amended to categorize as proving an “adequate education” any school that has begun seeking accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). This provision will help clear the way for implementing vouchers for private school education, but the HB 620 Committee of Conference has now added a further amendment barring the State Board of Education from exceeding the minimums of Federal requirements if it leads to any unreimbursed expenditures or administrative burdens upon local districts. This will especially affect recently adopted NH guidelines for special education and have a serious impact on many of the 28,000 NH students with IEPs (individualized education plans). This draconian proposal will not save money but will likely impose future costs, as programs designed by localities to work with disabled and special needs students are curtailed to meet the Federal minimum, thereby reducing graduation rates and future employment prospects. Failing outcomes will then be cited as evidence of the failings of public education by the proponents of vouchers, who will then shout more loudly for public funding to send students to schools now defined as providing an “adequate education” because they have begun to seek accreditation. And so the wheels turn, and public education, one of the signature historical accomplishments of New Hampshire and the United States, is slowly dismantled.

Your Action Needed Help us reverse this process. Please contact your State Representative (s) and tell them you support students with special needs and demand that they Vote No on HB 620 Conference Committee Report. Let’s start to turn the tide, and begin protecting and preserving that great equalizer and ladder to economic opportunity, the public school system.

 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

 

Attached is the bulletin in PDF form for printing and sharing

AFT-NH LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN June 18, 2017

Tax Giveaways For The Wealthy, While Kids Get Funding For Education Through KENO

This is why we cannot have nice things.  

Our screwed up system of state and local taxes creates many problems for state legislators when crafting our bi-annual state budget.  Our current system means we have to rely on the “sin taxes” aka booze and smokes.  Now they are basing funding for kindergarten on Keno sales.

Thats right. Instead of funding full day kindergarten as both Governor Sununu and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern campaigned on, Republicans have agreed to partially fund full day kindergarten with revenue from a new Keno lottery game.  We are basing funding for the education of our children on Keno.

The Concord Monitor reports:

The amendment approved by a committee of conference would provide an additional $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student and would legalize the online lottery game keno to help pay for it. The plan also guarantees the funding even if keno revenues aren’t enough to cover the grants.”

The $1,100 additional adequacy grant does not cover the costs of full day kindergarten as the Union Leader explains.

The state currently offers school districts a grant of $1,800 per student for kindergarten enrollment. That’s half the so-called “adequacy grant” of $3,600 for students in grades 1-12, assuming half-day kindergarten programs.

Throughout the budget process Republicans have been saying we cannot afford to cover our proposed expenses and pay for full day kindergarten, but there is plenty of money to drop the Business Profits Tax.

Jeff Woodburn the Democratic Minority Leader in the NH Senate said:

Senate Democrats have been leading on Kindergarten for years, and we are glad Governor Sununu has at least attempted to follow our example. But, today’s failure to support full-day kindergarten like any other grade while giving even more tax cuts for the wealthy elite is a major disappointment and once again demonstrates Governor Sununu’s failure to lead. The fact that Governor Sununu could not get the Republican House to compromise raises real questions about the Governor’s commitment to full-day kindergarten and shows, once again, his commitment to partisan politics.”

“Just like his broken campaign promises to lead on reducing tuition at our colleges and universities and on family and medical leave insurance, this kindergarten shell game demonstrates Governor Sununu’s desire to put partisan politics ahead of meaningful progress for everyday Granite Staters.”

It is very clear that Republicans in the Legislature do not care about working people and children as they refuse to make full day kindergarten mandatory and fail to fully fund full day kindergarten.  They are more than willing to slash taxes on “business owners” at the expense of the needs and priorities of the state.

I do not want to hear any Republican say that we cannot afford  to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, fully fund full day kindergarten, invest in repairs for local schools, or that we cannot afford to expand rail service into NH until they replace the tax giveaways in this budget.

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin: NH Budget, Kindergarten Funding, And Voter Suppression

May 11, 2017  

The wheels turn slowly in Concord, as we grind towards the inevitable mid-June end of the 2017 legislative session The House did not meet in session this week due to a lack of bills coming to the floor for action, so everything will be condensed into sessions at the end of May. The House meets in session on May 18th to vote on an emergency supplemental appropriation to fund the Department of Health and Human Services until the end of the fiscal year. There will be no consideration of committee reports at this session.

Senate Action   The Senate did meet in session this week. The Senate’s proposed budget is yet to be unveiled. Committees did meet, however, and legislation continues to be refined and revenues continue to be sought for funding of various proposals. HB 356-FN, the bill with the attempted power grab by Education Commissioner Edelblut, was voted on by the Senate and for now, the power grab has been held at bay. The final amended bill as passed by the Senate creates a committee to study education funding and the cost of an opportunity for an adequate education, the original intent of the bill, and “establishes a committee to study the organizational structure of the department of education and the duties and responsibilities of the commissioner of the department of education”.  The report of this committee is due out on November 1, 2017. The bill as amended also “authorizes the commissioner of the department of education, with the advice of the state board of education and after consultation with the deputy director and affected division directors, to transfer or assign functions, programs, or services within or between any division. Vigilance will be necessary to monitor the work of this committee and recommendations for the session in January.

Voter Suppression The House Election Law committee met earlier this week to once again consider SB 3, the voter suppression bill. A lengthy amendment was presented to the committee by Republican members, but while it redrafted many sections of the bill, most of the changes were technical and related to issues raised by groups such as the NH Municipal Association. One interesting proposal was to change who might come to your door to follow up and check on your domicile. Rather than election officials or local law enforcement, the proposed change had county officials doing this work, that is until it was pointed out that county sheriffs and their employees would likely be tasked with this duty. So, back to the drawing board. Given that there are virtually no reported instances of voter fraud in New Hampshire, the idea of having law enforcement confirm the domicile you listed when registering seems just a bit sinister. But to hear some House members and Senators speak, bringing law enforcement into the voter registration process and creating lengthy and confusing forms for new voters to fill out is all just normal, not an attempt to dissuade people from voting. According to the docket, the House Election Law Committee has this scheduled for Executive Session on May 16th at 10:20am at the Legislative Office Building, Room 308.

Funding for Full Day Kindergarten   In other news, the House Finance Committee held hearings this week on funding of full-day kindergarten across New Hampshire. No one can accuse New Hampshire of rushing into new and innovative ideas, since 76% of kindergarten students in 2012 were already in full-day sessions. Whether the Finance Committee will recommend financing this initiative or ask the House to reject it, it will be a difficult vote to defeat this initiative, given that it passed as a policy measure by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in the House just a couple of weeks ago. The public hearing was held last week and the Finance Committee (Division II) has scheduled an executive session for SB 191-FN, funding for full day kindergarten on Tuesday, May 16th at 11:00am at the Legislative Office Building, Room 209. The Finance Committee is also investigating the financing of SB 247, which will mandate early childhood testing for lead poisoning and require it as a prerequisite for public school enrollment. Everyone concedes that lead poisoning has very serious developmental consequences for young children, consequences that last a lifetime. Where the battle-lines are being drawn in the House is over the proposal to establish a fund to aid landlords in remediating for lead in properties they own. So there are costs associated with this initiative, costs that must then be counter-balanced by the public health benefits, especially in regards to young children who are not responsible for the environment in which they live. It is a public health issue, but also one with serious educational and social welfare ramifications, so it will prove interesting to see how this plays out at the end of the session.

New Hampshire Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Ceremony   On Friday, May 19th at 9:45 am in front of the Legislative Office Building at the memorial site, the annual service to honor our fallen NH law enforcement heroes will be held. If you can attend, please do make the effort. Next week is National Policer Officers Week to honor the work of law enforcement. We gather on May 19th to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice keeping us all safe and every day we should appreciate and support the work of our law enforcement officers.

Finally, the House Committee on Legislative Administration held its public hearings on Republican Robert Fisher, accused of misogynistic commentary and running/contributing to a web platform with postings favorable to rape as well as claiming women lose value once past the age of thirty. Fisher defended himself in his hearing, admitting to some comments, denying others, but showing little in the way of remorse or contrition. As for Democrat Sherry Frost, the committee is investigating uncivil language used by her in a series of tweets a number of months ago, for which she already apologized. As noted last week, the political balancing act here is quite clear even if the allegations are not remotely equivalent, but this is life under the golden dome of the State House. The committee will issue its report and recommendations next week, and it will be interesting to see if the committee goes beyond a reprimand. That leaves it to the voters in Laconia (Fisher) and Dover (Frost). However, when the front page of NH’s leading newspaper features headlines on Fisher’s hearing and then the sentencing of former Republican representative Kyle Tasker on drug charges and using the Internet to solicit sex with a minor, well it just wasn’t a good day. Of course, if Tasker were proposing marriage to the 14-year old, that would be fine—remember, the House refused to raise the age for marriage for girls from 13 to 18 years old. It has been that kind of year. 

 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

Below is a PDF copy of the Bulletin you can print and share.

AFT-NH LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN May 11, 2017

NH House Passes Bill To Fully Fund Full Day Kindergarten In NH Schools

The New Hampshire House voted 247-116 today to adopt an amended version of SB 191, which will provide $14 million in adequacy payments to communities that offer full-day kindergarten programs.  The bill will now head to the House Finance Committee for review.

“The House’s vote today in support of full-day kindergarten is a long-overdue recognition of the value that kindergarten programs provide to the development of our children.  This bill simply provides full funding for kindergarten programs in communities that offer it, finally giving kindergarten the support it deserves,” said House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook).  “The business community recognizes the importance of early childhood education and strongly supports this bill.  I am hopeful that the House Finance Committee will reach the same conclusion in their review of this legislation.”

Earlier this year, the Senate passed SB 191 in its original form by a vote of 22 to 1 before amending the funding level down to $9 million per year and sending SB 191 to the House.

“It’s a great day for New Hampshire children and for those that want to see elected officials come together in a bipartisan fashion,” said Senator Woodburn. “Now that the House and Senate have gone on record as supporting full-funding rather than the Governor’s grant program, it’s time to move forward and include the full-funding in the budget.”

“Funding full-day kindergarten expands educational opportunities for our students, expands opportunity for parents who need to work, and eases the burdens on local property taxpayers. Today’s vote is a great example of how the legislature can come together and do the right thing. When it comes to investing in our children’s futures, we can’t afford to cut corners and take the easy way out and I urge the legislature to make sure this full funding is included in the budget,” Woodburn added.

“Governor Sununu was pushed to support fully funded full-day kindergarten on the campaign trail and broke that promise with his budget proposal and appointment of Frank Edelblut as Education Commissioner,” said NH Democratic Party Chair, Ray Buckley. “Today, Democrats held him accountable for his broken promise by finally providing every child in the state full-day kindergarten instead of ceding to his half-baked budget proposal. Democrats carried the bill across the finish line in the House, with every single Democratic House member voting for the legislation while a majority of Republican members voted against it.  Sununu’s inability to lead almost cost us full-day kindergarten. Today was another example of why we need Democrats in the State House.”

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin: A Triple Crown Victory for Public Education

 

Bow, NH – April 25, 2017

As we all know, public education is under assault here in New Hampshire. Yesterday, though, we won three important victories, and it is time to take a moment to celebrate and to reflect. Days like today don’t come about too often, especially when opponents of public education control seemingly control every branch of NH government. But, through the hard work of thousands of people testifying in Concord, protesting outside the State House, writing letters and emails and calling their senators and representative, you won some important victories. So congratulations, rest up for a day, and get ready for the battles yet to come!

Edelblut Power Grab Halted! The Senate Education Committee defeated the amendment put forth by Sen Reagan, and supported by Commissioner Edelblut, which would have totally reorganized the Department of Education and consolidated much power in the hands of the commissioner. Sen. David Watters put forth an amendment which will have the reorganization and commissioner’s power referred to a study committee. Quick response by AFT-NH members and supporters of public education helped defeat this grab for power which could have had significant consequences for public education in NH.

Please take a moment, send an email or make a phone call and thank the three members of the Senate committee who listened to their constituents and defeated this power grab.

Senator Jay Kahn (D-Keene), 603-271-8631 or Jay.Kahn@leg.state.nh.us

Senator Ruth Ward (R-Stoddard), 603-271-6733 or ruth.ward@leg.state.nh.us

Senator David Watters (D-Dover), 603-271-8631 or david.watters@leg.state.nh.us

SB 193 Retained in Committee     The House Education Committee voted 15-4 today to retain SB 193 , the school voucher bill. This bill would have drained public tax dollars from public schools and diverted to education savings accounts for students in private and religious schools along with home-schooled children. By retaining this bill in committee, no action will be taken this year. There was overwhelming opposition to this bill. We will remain vigilant on any efforts to divert tax dollars from public education. There is no question that direct citizen outreach to state representatives made the difference!

Please be sure to write to the House Education committee and thank them for the defeat of this bill. You can contact the entire committee at the following address: HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

Full-Day Kindergarten Funding   SB 191, the kindergarten funding bill, came before the House Education Committee today and the Committee voted to recommend funding for full day kindergarten. This amended bill would go beyond the targeted funding proposed by
Governor Sununu. The bill will now go to the full House and will be subject to the scrutiny of House Finance since $5 million was added to the original $9 million in funding. If passed, this would be a great advancement for our schools and NH’s five-year olds. We’ll keep you apprised of the need for action as this bill proceeds.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

NH House Dems Sponsor Legislation To Provide Funding For Full Day Kindergarten And Repeal Voucher Bill

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, the House Education Committee held public hearings on HB 155, relative to funding for kindergarten programs, and HB 129, repealing the education tax credit.

Representative Mary Stuart Gile, a former Chair and Ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee released the following statements subsequent to the public hearings on HB 155 and HB 129. Representative Gile, who holds her Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt University and her Master’s in Education from UNH, began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher at the Whitefield School in Jefferson, NH. She is a renowned expert in the area of child development and, among other accomplishments, established the Child Development Center and Laboratory School at NHTI.

“The skills attained by children during their early, impressionable years of life are critical to their development throughout adolescence and into adulthood.  Overwhelming research shows the value of kindergarten programs to social and academic development,” said Representative Gile.  “It was not until 2009 that New Hampshire caught-up to the rest of the nation by offering public kindergarten in every school district. However we remain one of the few states that do not provide funding for full-day kindergarten programs.  Our failure to reimburse cities and towns for full-day kindergarten acts as a deterrent to communities that wish to enact these critical programs.”  

HB 129 would repeal the education voucher tax credit law which was first passed in 2012 over the veto of Gov. John Lynch.  That law was subsequently ruled unconstitutional in 2013 by NH Superior Court Judge John Lewis because it violated NH’s separation of church and state (NH Constitution Part II, Article 83). On appeal, the NH Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit due to lack of standing by the plaintiff and did not rule on the constitutionality of the education voucher law. 

“With the difficulties that we have securing needed funding for our public schools, it makes no sense to siphon money away from the tax base that provides that funding.  Further, the New Hampshire Constitution expressly prohibits the financing of religious schools that the education voucher tax credit authorizes,” said Representative Gile.  “Repealing this unconstitutional voucher law will return some sorely needed funds to our public education system.” 

Republicans Kill A Bill To Expand Full Day Kindergarten

Image by Cole24_ FLICKR

Image by Cole24_ FLICKR

Republicans love to complain that our current education system is failing our children, yet when they are presented with a strong solution to boost early education, they adamantly reject it.

Earlier this month, New Hampshire legislators were given the opportunity to expand the state’s kindergarten program from half-day to full day. The bill, HB 1563, would simply provide additional state funds for schools who are already offering full day kindergarten and those who switch from half-day to full day.

“Full-day kindergarten helps make sure that students build the strong base of learning they will need to succeed throughout school and life,” wrote the National Education Association. “Full-day kindergarten can produce long-term educational gains, especially for low-income and minority students.”

The benefits of full-day kindergarten are well documented. According to research compiled by the Children’s National Defense Fund they found that children:

  • Are more prepared for school: they do better with the transition to first grade, show significant gains in school socialization and are equipped with stronger learning skills
  • Have higher academic achievement in later grades
  • Have better attendance in kindergarten and through the primary grades
  • Show faster gains on literacy and language measures when compared to half-day kindergarten students
  • Have enhanced social, emotional and behavior development
  • Have reduced retention and remediation rates.

These are substantial gains for children and a significant boost to our education system as a whole. Investing in early education will also build a stronger, well-educated workforce in the years to come.

Sadly, this will not become a reality this year because Republicans in the NH House rejected the idea.

In a completely partisan vote, the NH House rejected HB 1563, 205 to 152. Everyone who voted against expanding full day kindergarten was a Republican.

Republicans should stop their whining about the failures of our education system and start looking in the mirror. They are the ones who are failing to invest in a proven, successful program that will create lasting effects on a child’s ability to learn and grow.

We need to elect legislators who are willing to do what is needed to improve our education system, not just what is best for their political careers.


 

UPDATED to correct an error. Not all the Republicans in the House voted against expanding full day kindergarten as previously reported.  Eight Republicans voted for the bill, however all of the votes against the bill were Republicans.

Granite State Rumblings: The Strong Start For America’s Children Act

On May 19th a bill to expand quality preschool programs was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate and House. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act was originally introduced in 2013. The 2015 bill was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, with co-sponsorship from 19 other members of her party. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.).

At the heart of Strong Start for America’s Children is a groundbreaking, 10-year federal-state partnership to boost quality early learning, something that Murray called “one of the smartest investments we can make” in strong schools and our nation.

“As a former preschool teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the transformation that early learning can inspire in a child,” Murray said. “Investing in our youngest learners is critical for children and their families,” and the bill will help families and communities nationwide “gain access to early learning programs and provide their children with the strong educational opportunities that will pay dividends in our future economic growth.”

As Stephanie Schmit outlined in a post for CLASP; both bills would establish a partnership between state and federal governments to equip states to improve and expand high-quality, full-day preschool programs for four-year-olds with the goal of increasing school readiness. Specifically, the Act would advance high-quality, comprehensive early care and education access for young children across the country by:

  • Setting clear expectations for high-quality services, including high staff qualifications and developmentally appropriate and evidence-based curricula and learning environments in high-quality preschool.
  • Providing critical supports to increase the educational attainment of the early childhood workforce.
  • Addressing the needs of low-income working families by allowing schools, Head Start, and child care settings to apply for funds to offer pre-kindergarten, as well as establishing expectations for the provision of full-day services and comprehensive health services.
  • Providing for additional partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs to ensure that more vulnerable infants, toddlers, and their families have access to the comprehensive early education and family support services that are the hallmark of Head Start.
  • Building on existing state structures by providing funding to help states expand access and improve the quality of existing state pre-kindergarten programs. Because a variety of early education settings are needed to meet the needs of different families, schools, Head Start programs, and community-based child care can compete for resources to provide quality care in communities that need it. States will also have the flexibility to use funds for quality improvements and to serve infants and toddlers.

High-quality early education experiences are widely recognized as key to preparing young children for school success and improving the lifetime employment and earnings of low-income children. It’s now up to members of Congress to move this legislation forward. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would be transformational for children, families and early childhood systems. It would expand access to high-quality child care and early education services for the youngest, most vulnerable, low-income children and families in the country—providing the strong start that all children need.

Expanding high-quality early childhood education is an issue where Americans from both sides of the political aisle see eye-to-eye. And voters have expressed their overwhelming, bipartisan support for increased federal action, according to a poll by the First Five Years Fund last year.

ml615This bill has the support of more than 70 organizations across the country, including Every Child Matters.

Business leaders, the law enforcement community, brain scientists and economists all agree that early learning is one of the strongest investments we can make as a society.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act is a critical investment that would provide short-term and long-term economic benefits for states and communities across the nation. We strongly urge Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to come together to pass this important legislation.

Sources: The First Five Years Fund, CLASP, American Federation of Teachers

GROWING UP GRANITE

The following is a piece from NH Public Radio’s weeklong series, The First Decade.

Full-Day Kindergarten Closes Achievement Gap, Yet N.H. Lags Way Behind In Adopting It
By SAM EVANS-BROWN

Kindergarten is a year of transition. Kids are learning how to listen, follow directions, sit still… but while they are making that transition, there’s a lot of mandatory wiggling.

In Mr. Woody’s morning kindergarten class, in Plainfield, a class of students blows off some steam while doing a “wiggle dance.” A stereo plays a children’s song that Mr. Woody sings along to, and the kids giggle and flail.

Mark Woodcock is something of a legend in this town. He’s been at it so long that several of the students in this class are children of his former students. “I am on my second generation here, yes. If I get to the third someone please show me the door, I’ve been too long at the party,” he says laughing.

His half-day program starts with morning circle. The kids take attendance, record the weather, and sharpen their math skills and number sense by counting their days at school. They have library time, they do a lesson on the lifecycle of a frog, they have snack and a bit of free play. To cap it all off, they read a story, also frog-themed.

And then that’s it.

Their three hours are up. The kids run outside to play while they wait for their parents to arrive.

“With three hours, it’s real hard. It’s very stressful,” says Woodcock, “I’m at the point where come May I’m looking at some students and I’m thinking ‘They’re going to first grade! I feel like maybe I haven’t done my job!’”

But that’s about to change.

“I’m over the moon excited about next year. I can balance all of it now, because I have the time now. They can get math and language arts in one day,” he explains, “It also gives me the chance now with a longer day to bring in parts that I’ve dropped off, some of the science, some of the social studies.”

The town of Plainfield voted to go to full-day kindergarten this year. The effort followed a letter-writing campaign led by parent Suzanne Spencer-Rendahl, whose daughter went through half-day kindergarten. At the time, her working schedule made half-day something of a nightmare.

“I had to take her all the way – because there’s not many child-care options in the town – so I would have to take her to Lebanon, drop her off for after-care, and then go to work,” Spencer-Rendahl remembers.

NH Lags Behind In Full-Day K

Plainfield is just the latest district to opt for full-day, and one of nine districts this fall. Next year, there will be more than 90 schools that have chosen to expand their half-day programs.

But compared to the rest of the nation, New Hampshire lags.

A report from Education Week found New Hampshire was second-to-last for attendance at full-day kindergarten. Just 55 percent of kindergarten aged New Hampshire students are in full day programs, compared to 75 percent nationwide. This is in part due to the fact that the state offers funding only for half-day programs, but it’s likely also in part because New Hampshire was the last state to mandate public kindergarten.

Plainfield is not a rich town, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its chances for expanding kindergarten. An analysis done by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies for NHPR finds that districts with high child poverty are more likely to have full-day programs. It found no connection to enrollment trends, property values in towns, or rural versus urban schools.

While many working parents clamor for a longer day, parents as a whole are not a unified block.

“I feel really conflicted about it,” says Emily Twarog who stays home to care for her kids in Plainfield. She baby sits for two others after kindergarten lets out, and says she values the time for unstructured play that her kids get in the afternoon.

“They go to school for a lot of years, and I just enjoy having them home as long as I can,” she says. Twarog says she notices a kind of fatigue in her kids when they are done with class, and thinks a full-day would be too much.

But not every kid is going to a never-ending play-date after school, many parents can’t afford a babysitter or an aftercare program.

“They cost money, so not all kids can get into those programs,” says Mark Woodcock, “and some may be going home with grandparents and they have a quieter day than say kids that are going to another program after me.”

How Much School Is Too Much School?

Chloe Gibbs, a researcher at the University of Virginia, says this question launched her career.

“I really thought it was an open question, do five-year olds really get benefit from being in a classroom for that many hours or are we really keeping them too long past a certain point?” says Gibbs.

But after more than a decade of asking that question, Gibbs says the answer is clear: kids who go to full-day kindergarten do better on tests for years afterward, though other students tend to begin to catch up by fourth grade.

“The effect I find on average is about an additional three, three-and-a-half months of schooling effect,” says Gibbs. That benefit is even higher for kids who come into school with low literacy skills.

Gibbs says full day kindergarten has a bigger impact than smaller class sizes and participation in Head Start programs and it generally costs less.

It seems, in New Hampshire, that’s part of what is convincing towns to extend the day.

Pembroke was one of the first schools in the state to go full-day.

The daily schedule hanging on the wall in Trois Montana’s kindergarten classroom  has more than twice as many classes on it than the one in Plainfield, including separate times for reading, writing, and math. Sitting for an interview during her lunch hour in tiny little chairs at a tiny little table, Montana says she can’t imagine trying to cram her curriculum into a half-day.

“I mean we’ve even seen it where in first grade, they get 8-10 new students from other towns, and most of those kids have had a half-day program and they end up being the low ten percent of the first graders,” she says.

She explains that even those kids that qualify for federally funded Title I programs, which benefit low-income students see a boost. “Those newer kids that came from other towns that had a half-day they’re actually lower than our title kids, so our title kids look incredible! Every single year we see that.”

Keeping up with the Joneses

Pembroke’s kindergarten even attracts parents from neighboring towns who don’t actually live there. Families will sometimes claim they live with a grand-parent or a friend with a Pembroke address to get their kids into a full day program.

That’s certainly what Mr. Woody, the kindergarten teacher up in Plainfield, is hoping for… though he’d like folks to get into to his class through the traditional route.

“Well, we’re hoping we’re going to put together the best dog-gone kindergarten program in the whole Upper Valley, and people are going to be driving down to Plainfield buying up houses left and right, and we’re going to be busting at the seams!” he says, flipping into full kindergarten teacher performance mode.

Some of those families may soon get full-day kindergarten in their own towns. Since 1999, about five schools a year have been expanding their programs, even without funding from the state.

And as towns increasingly find their neighbors have gone to full-day, pressure from parents to keep up with Joneses could be what pushes New Hampshire schools to keep up with the national trend.

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