Seacoast Online: All-day kindergarten a necessity

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Seacoast Online published an editorial on Sunday urging legislators to fund full-day kindergarten, saying it is “a necessity”:

New Hampshire House members last week donned their pecuniary caps for one of their regular we’ve-got-no-money-for-this budgetary dances. This time, the gyrations were about all-day kindergarten. We say put away the disco ball and dancing shoes and find the money.

Republican House budget writers rejected their own governor’s plan last Wednesday to spend $9 million to expand full-day kindergarten programs in the state. Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan would have funneled additional kindergarten money to communities to help pay for all-day kindergarten, which an emerging body of research suggests is crucial to student success, better life outcomes and flourishing economies.

Kindergarten isn’t about eating snacks and coloring, or sending children to public programs so parents can shed the cost of day care. It’s learning at a critical stage of childhood development that ensures all students are ready for school when they enter first grade.

Sununu’s plan is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the proposal to provide full-day kindergarten to every New Hampshire community. That would cost about $14.5 million, according to state Sen. David Watters of Dover, who proposed a bill in the Senate to do just that.

Under Sununu’s plan, state aid for kindergarten would be based on need, including the number of low-income or English language learners in a school, rather than distributing a uniform amount per student. Now, school districts get half the normal per-student aid from the state for kindergartners, whether they have full-day programs or not.

There are 104 New Hampshire communities and five charter schools that have full-day kindergarten programs. According to the state Department of Education, as of the 2015-2016 school year, Seacoast and Tri-City communities that have full-day programs include Barrington, Dover, East Kingston, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Milton, New Castle, Newfields, Newington, Newmarket, North Hampton, Portsmouth, Rochester, Rollinsford, Rye, Seabrook and Stratham. The Seacoast Charter School also has a full-day kindergarten program.

Watters said he would much prefer to see his $14.5 million plan adopted, but described himself as a pragmatist willing to compromise to get something done. Sununu’s plan is one he could support, he said. Neither plan mandates all-day kindergarten, which avoids constitutional issues and preserves local choice.

Watters views kindergarten as a critical educational investment that pays big dividends. Studies have shown children who attend all-day kindergarten are much less likely to need individual education plans in public schools, which can be very costly, according to Watters. He also noted fourth-graders score higher in math if they attended an all-day kindergarten program.

Researchers have made a compelling case, Watters said. For skeptics, he presents these findings: Students who attended all-day kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to pursue higher education, less likely to use drugs, less likely to become pregnant as teenagers and more likely to make solid life choices.

Despite the House’s rejection of Sununu’s plan, Watters remains hopeful for his own $14.5 million proposal or the governor’s scaled-down version once the Senate begins its budget deliberations. The House will vote on the full version of the budget April 6 and there will be committee-of-conference meetings in June to reconcile the House and Senate budgets. Watters said by then the Senate will have the advantage of the latest state revenue figures to know how much money is available to spend.

We fully support Watters’ kindergarten plan and hope state lawmakers understand that kindergarten shouldn’t be treated any differently than grades 1-12. If Watters’ plan isn’t doable during this budget cycle, maybe Sununu’s will prevail.

Either way, Watters predicts New Hampshire will have full-day kindergarten one or two more budgets from now. It’s no longer an option, it’s a necessity.

Read the full article here.