Lawmakers continue to expand full-day kindergarten

Lawmakers continue to expand full-day kindergarten

(N.H.) More children will have access to full-day kindergarten following action by lawmakers in New Hampshire to nearly double per-pupil spending statewide.

Under the bill signed by the governor earlier this month, the state will commit to increasing funding by $1,100 per-pupil on top of the current allotment of $1,800, with additional per-student costs to be covered by taxing electronic bingo games located in bars and restaurants.

“The investments made today will give New Hampshire’s children a strong foundation for tomorrow’s future,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. “I am proud to be the first governor to deliver a real full-day kindergarten program for communities across our state, which will close the opportunity gap and provide students, regardless of their economic status, an extra step up as they enter the first grade. Full-day kindergarten is good for children and families, and a critical tool in retaining our future workforce.”

Research has shown that children who participate in full-day kindergarten are often better prepared for primary-grade learning—including in socialization, mathematics and reading skills—than those in half-day programs.

As a result, both federal and state policymakers have emphasized expanding access to early education programs–both preschool and kindergarten–as a way to close achievement gaps between student subgroups. States including Michigan, California, Alabama, Texas, Oregon and New York have all increased spending for these programs in recent years, citing research that demonstrates the many benefits of early childhood learning.

In New Hampshire, almost 75 percent of communities already offer full-day kindergarten and serve about 80 percent of students, but the state pays just about $1,800 per-student–approximately half the standard per-pupil cost for full-day kindergarten.

The districts that do offer full-day learning currently use local property taxes to pay for the second half of the day–an option that doesn’t exist in areas with low property values and more low median income families.

Beginning in 2019, the state will provide an additional $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student, and local communities will be able to generate additional funding through taxation of electronic Keno bingo lottery games which can now be played in local bars and restaurants.

Senate Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, called the decision to tie funding to the newly authorized Keno games while not also committing to full funding at the state-level a disappointment, and said that Democratic lawmakers would continue to push for full funding.

“Make no mistake, SB 191 does not fully fund full-day Kindergarten,” Woodburn said in a statement. “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.”

Sununu, a Republican, ran on a campaign promise to completely fund full-day kindergarten throughout the state, and initially proposed a $9 million-per-year, need-based grant system that would have funded programs for districts with a high number of low-income families.

Combined with previous legislation, the new funding will cover about 80 percent of the cost for full-day programs. Critics of the plan have argued that doesn’t go far enough to make full-day kindergarten available across the state, while others oppose its dependence on lottery revenues.

Some proposed that the second half of the kindergarten day be fully funded by the state at $1,800, with the money from Keno going into the state's Education Trust Fund.  Money collected for the fund through statewide property and utility taxes, tobacco taxes and sweepstakes funds, and other means are distributed as education grants to districts.

Others have praised the new law as a step in the right direction toward fully funding all-day kindergarten for all students.

The law was ultimately approved by wide margins in both the House and Senate, with votes of 251-111 and 15-8 respectively.