May 24. 2017 10:05PM

Keno floated to fund all-day kindergarten

State House Bureau

What is Keno?

Keno is a game of chance in which a player buys a ticket from a field of 80 numbers that corresponds with specific numbers on a card. Random numbers are generated by computer, 20 numbers are chosen, and a player is paid out against their original wager.

Proposals for Keno gambling have come up in the New Hampshire Legislature for years, based on the popularity of Keno in Massachusetts.

A 2017 bill to establish Keno estimated the lotto-like games would generate $8.47 million for the education trust fund. The House passed the bill, but the Senate re-referred it to committee. Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, and Rep. Bill Ohm, R-Nashua, sponsored the bill.

The New Hampshire Lottery Commission would be charged with administration and enforcement. Past bills in the state called for Keno games at commercial premises only after a town or city has voted to allow it.

The recent bill filed and passed in the House assumes there would be 250 licensed Keno locations across New Hampshire. Other points based on that legislation include:

A license would cost $500, and licensee may retain 8 percent of game proceeds; 1 percent would be paid to the state Department of Health and Human Services to support research, prevention, and intervention, and treatment, for problem gamblers; and no one under 18 would be allowed to purchase or redeem a Keno ticket.

CONCORD — The path toward state funding for full-day kindergarten took another turn on Wednesday as the House Finance Committee endorsed a $9 million proposal using Keno to pay the bill.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said the measure has two key components.

“The first is a recognition that we are very highly committed to public education and the more opportunities we have to increase the total education fund the better,” she said. “And second, this was an opportunity by bringing Keno in to increase the bottom line of the education fund.”

The state currently offers school districts a grant of $1,800 per student for kindergarten enrollment. That’s half the so-called “adequacy grant” of $3,600 for students in grades 1-12, assuming half-day programs.

The House on May 4 passed a bill to add another $1,800 to kindergarten grants, putting kindergarten on equal footing with grades 1-12 in terms of state funding, at a cost of $14 million a year.

Any House bill that needs funding has to go through the House Finance Committee, which on Wednesday knocked the $14 million proposal down to $9 million by reducing the additional grant for the second half day from $1,800 to $1,100.

That brings the House bill more in line with Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget request and a Senate-passed kindergarten expansion bill, both of which are in the $9 million range. But significant differences remain.

Keno is not included as a funding source in the governor’s budget, nor in the Senate kindergarten bill that passed on March 30, which mirrors the governor’s proposal

While 70 percent of the school districts in the state, serving 80 percent of students, have already adopted full-day kindergarten using local property taxes to pay for the second half of the day, towns with low median income and low property values are less likely to be able to fund full-day kindergarten even if they want it.

Sununu has proposed targeting $9 million in state education money toward those communities, in the hope of bringing full-day kindergarten to every community that wants it, and that approach is included in the Senate bill.

The version that passed House Finance, 26-0, offers the additional $1,100 to any community that either already has or wants to have a full-day program, with no targeting or means testing.

For communities already paying for the second day on their own, the additional state money would be a bonus. For those who don’t have it, the money would serve as a motivator, said state Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill.

“It’s a good incentive for those towns that aren’t engaging (in full-day kindergarten) to engage, seeing they’ll have this other revenue coming in,” he said. “Yes, the town will have to ante up a little bit, but we’re hoping to get the buy-in.”

The Finance Committee proposal includes an opt-out provision for any parent who does not want their child to attend full day kindergarten or any kindergarten at all. The state’s age for compulsory school attendance remains unchanged at 6 years old.

Committee Vice Chairman Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, explained the committee’s reason for abandoning Sununu’s targeted approach.

“The governor proposed funding for some but not all students,” she said. “How do you explain to your constituents that Student A is worth (state) funding for full-day kindergarten, but Student B is not. We are making this available to all students.”

Some members of the committee did not support the introduction of Keno in the state, but the funding mechanism was included in the amendment and could not be broken out.

“For those of us who oppose Keno and very much support kindergarten, this is a difficult vote,” said Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, “because we are not separating them. I wanted to make that point for those of us who will be supporting this bill but do not support Keno.”

Senate President Chuck Morse predicted that, if the bill passes the House as presented, a House-Senate conference committee will be needed to hash out the differences.

“The Senate supports kindergarten, how we fund it is to be determined down the road,” he said. “Keno in the Senate has had a tough fight every time.”