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Senate Finance Committee nixes full-day kindergarten funding



Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A growing bipartisan consensus about funding full-day kindergarten appeared to waver on Wednesday, when Senate Finance committee members voted 4-2 along party lines to strike any extra money for all-day programming from the Senate version of the state’s education budget.

The move doesn’t quash the possibility that districts who offer full-day kindergarten will get extra money next year, but it means the Senate will have no leverage to bring back the matter this session if the House Finance committee decides to kill or hold back Senate Bill 191.

“I don’t want to bank on the House Finance committee. For all we know, they’re going to retain the bill,” Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat, told his fellow senators on Wednesday.

School districts in New Hampshire currently receive half of a per-pupil education grant for kindergarteners, regardless of whether or not programming is for a full day or a half day. SB 191 would give districts who offer full-day programs extra state aid.

Different versions of the bill have gotten preliminary votes of approval from both chambers, but Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, said it was the House that had played with fire by taking the $9 million proposal the Senate had sent over and upping it to $14.5 million.

“Obviously, people want to play with it, up the amount of money, and can’t take a good thing and start it,” the Senate president said. “It’s a good bill the way we sent it over and that’s the bill that should pass.”

The $9 million plan was modeled on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposal to give targeted kindergarten aid based on the number of low-income students and students learning English in a district. The $14.5 million is the estimated cost of giving districts who offer all-day programs the full per-pupil state education grant.

The House Finance committee is scheduled to vote on SB 191 next Wednesday.

Senators on the committee also unanimously backed a plan to increase state aid to charter schools, upping per-pupil spending by $250 in 2018 and $375 in 2019.

That’s different – and less – than what the governor had requested in his budget, where he’d suggested indexing charter school aid to spending in traditional public schools. Sununu’s proposal would have given charters an extra $500 per-pupil in 2018 and $1000 in 2019.

The Republican majority on the committee also declined to fund a position at the department of education to oversee charter schools. They did, however, vote in favor of an $83,500 annual request from the commissioner to give the department a dedicated spokesperson, as well as $150,000 in one-time spending for website and data reporting improvements.

Republicans on the committee also defeated an amendment to temporarily freeze cuts to stabilization aid, a grant program that gives out over $158 million annual in extra education aid to mostly property-poor, low-income districts. Stabilization is scheduled to be phased out in 25 years, by way of annual cuts of roughly $6 million.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)