House Finance Committee suggests tying full-day kindergarten to keno

  • The House Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to fund full-day kindergarten using proceeds from keno, an electronic lottery game. Lola Duffort / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2017 11:47:10 PM

The House Finance Committee has crafted a new proposal for funding full-day kindergarten, and is betting on keno – the electronic lottery game repeatedly defeated in the Senate – to fund it.

The committee voted, 26-0, Wednesday on a proposal to establish a keno program in New Hampshire and, using 91 percent of its proceeds, give school districts with full-day programs an extra $1,100 per kindergartner.

“We are very highly committed to public education, and the more opportunities we have to increase the total education fund, the better, and this was an opportunity, by bringing keno in, to increase the bottom line,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat.

A state Department of Education official estimated the total cost of the committee proposal to be between $8 million and $9 million, depending on where kindergarten enrollment figures fall.

That’s much less than the $14.5 million kindergarten proposal that the full House gave preliminary approval to, which would give complete state education aid to districts who offer full-day programming. Districts currently get half the per-pupil education grant for kindergartners, regardless of which program they offer.

The committee proposal’s costs are roughly in line with the targeted $9 million plan put forward by Gov. Chris Sununu that was backed by the Senate, although that proposal has a fixed budget, and the cost for the House committee’s plan could grow – or shrink – with enrollment.

According to the committee’s plan, extra money wouldn’t start flowing into districts until the 2018-19 school year. House Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Neal Kurk said that was to give districts a chance to act on the incentive.

The proposal allows “communities next March to have their meetings and decide, yes, because of this incentive we want to have (full-day) kindergarten,” said Kurk, a Weare Republican.

Rep. Rick Ladd, who chairs the House Education committee, where the $14.5 million proposal was greenlit just weeks ago, said he liked the committee’s proposal.

“It certainly provides a revenue source,” he said. “And the bottom line is that it’s good for our kids in the state.”

Ladd, a Haverhill Republican, added that he preferred the Finance Committee’s plan over Sununu’s targeted proposal, which gave needier districts more money.

“The wonderful thing about this bill ... is it funds every child the $1,100,” Ladd said. “It doesn’t discriminate against any child, whether you’re an English language learner or special ed or (on) free and reduced lunch.”

If the proposal passes the full House, it’ll next head to the Senate – which has repeatedly rejected keno – where lawmakers are likely to request a committee of conference.

Critics of keno have said it could increase gambling addictions, as well as raise revenues largely off the backs of the elderly and the poor.

Sen. David Watters – the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 191, the bill the House Finance Committee amended Wednesday – raised objection to the proposal.

“I think that the attempt to link it to keno is particularly ill-advised. In a sense, it’s playing politics with our children’s future and quite literally gambling with our children’s education,” he said.

Still, the Dover Democrat hastened to add that he wasn’t willing to “draw a line in the sand.”

“I don’t think this a good idea. But I want to make it clear that I am willing to work on any reasonable plan to fund-full day kindergarten,” Watters said. “This is part of a process – with many twists and turns. We’ve been working on this since 1999. It’s a long journey.”

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




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