Senators David Watters (District 4) and Dan Feltes (District 15) and Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy submitted this piece to the Concord Monitor on SB 191, which ties full-day kindergarten funding to revenues from the online lottery game Keno:
When the school bell rings in September, there will not be a single new dollar of support for our children attending kindergarten under a bill signed off on by Republicans. In the following year, schools will receive only 80 percent of adequacy funds. Thereafter, full payment for kindergarten adequacy will depend upon the state’s success at keno. This represents an 11th-hour partisan departure from what Senate Bill 191 had looked like at any point during the legislative process, and this keno-for-kindergarten marriage has big problems.
Full-day kindergarten is supported by business leaders and by an overwhelming majority of Granite Staters. Business leaders have recognized what the research clearly shows: Kindergarten equals better-educated and healthier children and contributes to workforce development. They also recognize that full-day kindergarten is essential to attracting and keeping young working families in our state. We all know that the best investments we can make are in our children’s future. Giving every child an opportunity for a good start through fully funded, full-day kindergarten shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Sununu and Republican leaders in the majority of the House and Senate made a partisan political gamble on the future of our kids. After Republicans refused to add full-day kindergarten in the budget, Democrats then offered the needed votes for keno on Senate Bill 191, but also insisted keno was not directly tied to kindergarten and that kindergarteners were treated like any other school child. Contrary to an agreement, Republicans chose a partisan path tying full financial support for kindergarten directly to keno revenue. This ensures keno operators are happy but it shortchanges taxpayers by millions less than the cost of full-day kindergarten adequacy. Gov. Sununu called this partisan, backroom deal “transformative.” We call it unfortunate, unfair and unconstitutional.
Just last year, the state lost a suit by the city of Dover based on the state’s admitted failure to pay the full costs of a constitutionally adequate education in the state’s most quickly growing communities. The state instituted an unconstitutional cap that prevented growing communities from receiving their share of constitutional adequacy payments. Indeed, the attorney general for New Hampshire conceded the law at issue in Dover was not constitutional. The 11th-hour Republican deal under consideration fails the same constitutional test because it does not pay for full-day kindergarten now and will not pay for it in the future if keno revenues are insufficient. The bill proposes to pay 80 percent of the cost of kindergarten next year and will pay more than this percentage only if keno is successful. The 80 percent figure is purely arbitrary. The next legislature could drop the percentage to 70 percent or 40 percent, leaving the local property taxpayer to pick up the tab. The only backstop against these arbitrary caps is the state constitutional requirement that the state pay the full cost of adequacy. The proposed legislation fails the constitutional test and unfairly shortchanges young children and struggling property tax payers.
This is what happens when you rush through a partisan deal at the last minute. The reality is no school will lose out this year if Senate Bill 191 fails, as the funding under the bill would not begin until fiscal year 2019. If the bill fails, Democrats remain committed to forging a bipartisan compromise to fully fund kindergarten with a new, constitutional bill. Our schools, our taxpayers and, most importantly, our kids deserve nothing less.