Sens. David Watters and Jeb Bradley: Young NH students need full-day kindergarten

Union Leader

Today’s Union Leader featured Sens. David Watters (D, Dover) and Jeb Bradley (R, Wolfboro) advocating for full day kindergarten:

IT IS A BREATH OF FRESH air when an issue arises that has popular support and allows Democrats and Republicans to reach across the aisle and work together. That is exactly what we are doing right now by supporting legislation that will increase funding for full-day kindergarten in the Granite State.

In March, the Senate passed SB 191, a bill that would implement Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan to provide targeted funding for full-day kindergarten to communities across New Hampshire by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 21-2. More recently, we testified together before the House Education Committee in support of SB 191. This legislation reflects the view of 85 percent of New Hampshire voters, who said the governor should make funding for early childhood education a priority in a November poll commissioned by Save the Children Action Network, an advocacy organization. More importantly, we both believe it’s the right thing to do for the state and it’s the right thing to do for kids.

By age 5, a child’s brain is nearly completely developed, yet our state pays only half of the cost to adequately educate that kindergarten student. Without full-day kindergarten, too many kids fall behind at a young age and have difficulty catching up to their peers.

Not only is it a question of equal opportunity for kids, but research from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman shows that investments in high-quality early childhood programs can yield an annual 13 percent return, per child, through improved outcomes, such as reduced crime, higher graduation rates and improved sociability. While full-day kindergarten helps more kids and families get ahead today, it also helps the state and save taxpayers money in the long run.

The business community recognizes the value of investing in full-day kindergarten for our state’s economy. The Business and Industry Association, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce, announced its support in a statement from its president, Jim Roche, who wisely explained that the “absence of universal full-day kindergarten is bad for business growth, retention, and recruitment.”

The Business and Industry Association understands that investments in early childhood keeps New Hampshire competitive with our neighbors in New England, who already prioritize such programs. So does Gov. Chris Sununu, as he has asserted that the lack of full-day kindergarten is impeding efforts to attract companies to the state. We applaud his leadership.

We believe Gov. Sununu’s $18 million biennium plan to fund targeted full-day kindergarten is a crucial first step in ensuring that all children in New Hampshire have access to full-day kindergarten. This bill is a compromise, as some would like the state to stay out of this type of funding and others insist on nothing less than full state funding.

This compromise represents the art of the possible. SB 191 does not mandate that any community adopt full-day kindergarten. Rather, it provides funding for those that do based upon a formula that incorporates the numbers of pupils receiving free and reduced meals and for whom English is a second language. We both believe that targeting funding to communities that need it most is an appropriate way to fund full-day kindergarten.

We fully and strongly support this compromise plan. It is a pragmatic approach that represents the next step in a long journey we began in 1999 to provide kindergarten education for the children of New Hampshire. There will be more work to do in the years ahead, but today we should invest in New Hampshire’s youngest generation, and our state’s future, by making SB 191 law.

The House and Senate have a rare chance to both increase equal opportunity and boost our economy and to do so in a bipartisan way. We hope our colleagues take it.

David Watters, D-Dover, sponsored SB 191 and is a member of the Senate Education Committee. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is the majority leader of the New Hampshire Senate.

Source: Sens. David Watters and Jeb Bradley: Young NH students need full-day kindergarten | New Hampshire