The Concord Monitor is launching its Environmental Reporting Lab, a long-term effort to better inform the community about the New Hampshire environment. To launch phase 1 of this effort, we need your help. The money raised will go toward hiring a full-time environmental reporter.

Please consider donating to this effort.


Don't turn the clock back on kindergarten

Last modified: 9/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
The evidence is clear. Children who attend kindergarten are less likely to need special education or repeat a grade, more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to get in trouble with the law. Students who attend kindergarten, particularly if they have a good teacher, also receive benefits like better social skills and higher earning power that last a lifetime. Despite that, Republican gubernatorial candidates Ovide La-montagne and Kevin Smith oppose the state's mandate that every school district offer public kindergarten. Their opposition is ideological, not educational, and voters should take note of it.

Both candidates are willing to return to the not-so-long-ago days when some children, primarily those from families struggling economically, were denied the ability to attend kindergarten because the only local schools offering it were private. That was true in a dozen communities as recently as 2008. The result: Many of the children who would benefit from going to kindergarten the most couldn't attend because their parents couldn't afford it.

Lamontagne, a former chairman of the state Board of Education, and Smith, a former assistant director of the state Division of Juvenile Services, know about the benefits of kindergarten. It's just that, especially when it comes to education, they place a higher value on the "local control" that allowed some communities to refuse to fund kindergarten.

It was disheartening to watch Lamontagne and Smith champion a return to a system that allowed some children to show up for first grade with little or no preparation, while others arrived with skills determined by the disparate programs offered by private schools. Some of those children did fine. Others needlessly struggled.

It was fitting that the debate occurred in Windham, one of the last towns in the state, and nation, to have a public kindergarten.

"The decision whether to have kindergarten is a decision for the communities and school districts to make, not the state," Lamontagne told those who attended the Windham debate. "If you turn over that decision to the state, what other decisions are you going to turn over?" Smith, whose town of Londonderry didn't operate a public kindergarten when he served as one of its state representatives, favored opening one, but he opposed allowing the state to overrule local objections to paying for one with a mandate.

New Hampshire was the last state in the nation to require that every child be offered the chance to attend a public kindergarten. Lawmakers did so in 2007 when, in response to the Supreme Court's Claremont school-funding ruling, they defined an adequate education as one that included at least a half-day of kindergarten.

It was hard then, and would be far harder today, given the wealth of research that confirms the importance of early childhood education, to argue that a system that didn't include kindergarten is "adequate."

The recession slowed the pace, but more states and school districts are offering not just kindergartens but public pre-kindergarten classes.

Research shows that, like kindergarten, pre-school education can change a child's path in life. It is also a good deal for society. A National Institute of Health study that tracked low-income children found that for every dollar invested in pre-school education, society got back between $4 and $11 in economic benefits. But New Hampshire is apparently still fighting over kindergarten.

New Hampshire parents, voters and lawmakers fought over the future of mandatory kindergarten for years, but all of the holdout communities now operate one. The issue was considered settled. But that was before Lamontagne and Smith, in their race for governor, decided to mount up and ride back into the educational past.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy