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Legislature approves kindergarten funding through new keno lottery

  • Kindergarteners paint with water colors during a half-day kindergarten class at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord on Friday, March 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Associated Press
Thursday, June 22, 2017

The New Hampshire Legislature on Thursday approved partial funding for full-day kindergarten and the use of the keno lottery game to pay for it, approving one of Gov. Chris Sununu’s top priorities in decisive, if not enthusiastic, votes.

Nearly 75 percent of New Hampshire communities already offer full-day kindergarten, but the state only pays half the standard per-student amount for those pupils, or about $1,800. Under the bill approved by the House and Senate, the state will provide $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student to start, and more if keno revenues exceed expectations. The decision to allow keno, which is often played in bars and restaurants, would be up to each community.

The vote was 251-211 in the House and 15-8 in the Senate; neither vote was along party lines. Most of the debate came in the latter chamber where even supporters said they struggled with their vote.

“I don’t feel like at end of day I’ll feel good no matter how I vote,” said Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester, one of three Democrats who backed the bill.

Some opponents complained that the plan doesn’t provide the full standard amount per pupil, while others objected to keno, saying it will take money from those who can least afford it.

“We are picking the pocket of the poorest people from the poorest places in the state of New Hampshire to fund something partially,” said Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield. “These are folks who can afford it the least and potentially get addicted the most. In the midst of the opioid crisis we are going to lure dollars away from those families ... when they’re going in to maybe buy a six-pack or whatever, something to chase away the demons, we are going to capitalize on that. This is a transfer of wealth, nothing more.”

In the House, Rep. Kevin Verville described the bill as “throwing money at a feel-good project,” and predicted it would lead to more problem gamblers, not more full-day kindergarten programs.

“’Mommy, Daddy, why do you gamble so much?’ ‘So children can go to public kindergarten for free,’” Verville, a Deerfield Republican, said sarcastically.

But Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said while he didn’t like the method of funding or the amount, he backed the bill as a way to help children. Noting that he hit a turkey in flight on his way to Concord (the turkey survived), he said the bill had taken a winding path, but in the end is a step forward.

“K-E-N-O,” he said. “Kids Eventually Need Opportunities.”

Sununu praised the legislation, saying it will provide children with a strong foundation for the future.

“I am proud to be the first governor to deliver a real full-day kindergarten program for communities across our state, which will close the opportunity gap and provide students, regardless of their economic status, an extra step up as they enter the first grade,” he said. “Full-day kindergarten is good for children and families, and a critical tool in retaining our future workforce.”