Keene Sentinel: Sununu should push hard for full-day kindergarten


The Keene Sentinel Editorial Board published this editorial urging Governor Sununu to fund full-day kindergarten:

During last fall’s successful gubernatorial campaign, Chris Sununu discussed many things he planned to do once in office. As we recall, Sununu was particularly adamant about three areas of concern he felt needed to be addressed, all with the ultimate goal of encouraging business growth.

He wanted to lower the regulatory and tax hurdles he felt were keeping businesses from moving, starting or succeeding in the Granite State. He wanted to put more resources into dealing with the state’s infrastructure, which would make New Hampshire a more inviting landing spot for any companies looking to relocate. And he wanted to address education, from kindergarten to higher education, largely as a way of creating better-qualified workers for these new and expanding businesses.

Bettering schools is always a good idea, as an educated populace is more equipped to be productive and will ultimately cost society less. In addition to being the right thing to do, New Hampshire law requires the state pay to care for those who cannot care for themselves. The better educated people are, the more likely they can care for themselves — hold a job, eat sensibly and maintain their health, etc.

When it comes to education, at no point is investment more important than at the foundational level. The link between a full-day kindergarten experience and higher achievement has been known for some time. Studies indicate expanding kindergarten leads to fewer students needing specialized education plans later on, which not only puts those students on firmer footing but also reduces costs.

Sununu undoubtedly knows this; he spoke of extending state aid for full-day kindergarten as one of his priorities on the campaign trail, and has consistently backed it since taking office.

How much a priority it is for him will soon become apparent.

A House Finance Committee panel voted Wednesday to whack $18 million from Sununu’s two-year budget — funds meant to pay for full-day kindergarten.

The state calculates its school aid to communities based on average daily attendance in each district. But there’s a clause in the law that limits the reimbursement for kindergarten students to half of what the state would otherwise pay. So instead of getting $3,636 per student — an already paltry sum that in no way covers the “adequate” education the N.H. Supreme Court has said the state’s responsible for paying under the N.H. Constitution — cities and towns get only $1,818 for each kindergartner.

Sununu’s plan would provide $9 million in added aid, targeted to communities with a high level of low-income or ESL students. The move would also free up parents in those districts who now have to stay home with their kids half the day to seek full-time work, adding to the workforce.

Sununu said after Wednesday’s vote he hopes the House will reconsider. He said all the right things about the need for expanding the program and how it would especially aid children who are most at risk of falling behind early in their education.

Conversely, House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, questioned whether a 6-year-old can focus through a full day of schooling. That’s as specious an argument as asserting that many an 80-year-old may not be able to focus, or even stay awake, through an entire legislative session, which hasn’t driven the Speaker to urge the House to set an age restriction on its members.

Sununu can’t undo moves made in legislative committees, but he can make it clear that if House and Senate leaders are seeking to capitalize on having a Republican governor for the first time in a dozen years, they need to work to achieve his goals, too. It’s time he used some of his considerable political capital to push harder for this priority item.