CONCORD — Two days after several more New Hampshire communities voted to allow Keno at local venues, the state Senate passed a bill to redirect Keno revenue away from kindergarten funding and into a newly created school building fund.
Instead of using Keno revenue to help pay for full-day kindergarten in the communities that want it, SB 266 would add full-day kindergarten to the state’s standard per-pupil education adequacy grant.
Until 2018, communities only got 50 percent of the per-pupil state grant for kindergarten students. School districts that wanted full-day kindergarten had to pay for the second half of the day entirely on their own.
Under a new law passed in 2017, the state agreed to fund kindergarten students to the same level it funds students in grades one through 12.
The extra money was supposed to come from Keno, but the revenue from Keno has fallen way short of that mark, requiring the state to make up the difference from the state treasury.
SB 266, which passed in the Senate 24-0, would shift the burden for the state’s share of full-day kindergarten to education adequacy grants, and create a new school building fund with the Keno revenue.
The bill still has a long way to go to become law, as it will go through a review by the Senate Finance Committee before coming back for a second Senate vote, after which it will move to the House.
Legislative staff estimates the additional cost to the education trust fund of including full-day kindergarten pupils in the per-pupil grants, and dedicating all Keno revenue to school building aid, at about $15 million a year.
“I support this knowing it’s going to Finance,” said minority leader Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem. “I know it’s a heavy lift, but I was never a Keno supporter. I did it to get kindergarten in the budget.”
There are five school construction projects approved for 2020 that could tap into the school building fund if the bill is eventually signed into law.
“It’s important to finally move forward with fully funding full-day kindergarten, disentangling Keno from kindergarten, and supporting kindergarten the same way as any other grade,” said Majority Leader Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord.