Lawmakers strike deal to add full-day kindergarten funded by Keno
CONCORD — House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on state funding for full-day kindergarten on Thursday, approving an amendment presented by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, that guarantees school districts that want full-day kindergarten an extra $1,100 per kindergarten pupil.
The money would come from taxes on state-sanctioned Keno games, as proposed in earlier legislation passed by the House of Representatives.
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 kindergarten programs.
Democrats wanted the second half of the kindergarten day fully funded at $1,800, but some Republicans in the House were concerned that Keno games would not generate sufficient revenue.
Bradley’s amendment guarantees at least $1,100, which lawmakers are confident can be paid for from Keno proceeds, even though the state has no experience with the bingo-style game.
The state will fully fund the per-pupil grant at $1,800 if Keno revenues are adequate. If not, the grants will be pro-rated per community at a level somewhere between $1,100 and $1,800, depending on exactly how much money is raised through Keno taxes in the first year.
Rep. Karen Umberge, R-Kearsarge, said the state would have a good understanding of Keno revenues by February, in order to determine grants for the school year starting in the fall of 2018.
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, were present at the conference committee vote as a show of support, as the measure is now expected to pass both chambers and be signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.
“For me and a lot of people who have worked for full-day kindergarten, this isn’t everything everyone would want, but it’s a significant step forward,” said Bradley.
About 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.
For those communities, the additional state money will be a bonus. For those who don’t have it, the money will serve as a motivator, according to state Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, chair of the House Education Committee.
The deal represents a compromise between the House, where state funding for kindergarten has been an uphill battle, and the Senate, where Keno has always met opposition.
“For people like me who have never voted for a casino or Keno, this is kind of a stretch, but that’s what you have to do sometimes for the greater good, and I think this amendment represents the greater good,” said Bradley. “There are some people who don’t want any public funding for kindergarten ... quite a few.”
Full-day kindergarten has been a policy priority for Sununu.
“This is one of the most transformative pieces of legislation, and more progress for kindergarten than this state has ever seen,” he said in a statement after the vote. “As revenues increase, the amount of funding can increase for kids. It is not only a first step, it is a real plan that funds full-day kindergarten across every community in this state.”