Full-Day Kindergarten: The Challenges and Benefits of Increasing Funding for Kindergarten Programs

Jan 4, 2017

More than half of New Hampshire districts have full-day kindergarten. Now a new bill would double state aid for this. But some local officials say that wouldn't go nearly far enough. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are unsure whether the state should make this commitment or focus on other issues.


GUESTS:

  • Jason Moon - NHPR Seacoast Reporter, who has covered education for the state. 
  • Dan Feltes - Democratic State Senator from Concord, who is promoting a bill to double state funding for kindergarten.
  • John Reagan - Republican State Senator from Deerfield, who is the Chair of the Education Committee. 
  • Jennifer Patterson - Vice President of the Concord School Board.

How does the state currently fund kindergarten?

New Hampshire currently allocates $3,636.06 of state funding per student in grades 1 through 12. For kindergartners, the state allocates half of that, or $1,818.03, to schools in order to provide half-day programs. New Hampshire has the second-lowest number of full-day kindergarten programs in the country, with only about 60% of students in full-day kindergarten. 

What does the new bill to increase state funding for kindergarten propose?

HB-155-FN, which will be introduced to the New Hampshire House of Representatives this week, proposes raising the amount of funding for kindergartners to $3,636, so that it will be equal to all other grades. 

Democratic State Senator Dan Feltes stresses that this funding will only apply to districts that choose to incorporate full-day kindergarten. 

If you're a local school district and you choose, it's not a mandate, but if you choose to offer full-day kindergarten, you get reimbursed for the same amount as any other student. 

Read a copy of the proposed bill to double kindergarten funding to $3,636.06 here.

Is there research to support the claim that full-day kindergarten improves academic performance over time?

 Feltes says that early research in childhood brain development demonstrates that students benefit from full-day kindergarten for years afterwards. But some analysts say the research remains inconclusive.  For example, one study says that benefits extend up until third or fourth grade, but that after that point, children who did not attend full-day kindergarten catch up to their peers.

What are the economic issues related to full-day kindergarten?

Feltes says that low-income families cannot afford to pay for private kindergarten, and that the high cost of childcare places an unfair economic burden on poorer areas. 

The cost of childcare is now the biggest cost for working families in the state, the second biggest is housing…You have working families in some cases taking their kids out [of school] at 10:30 in the morning and have to leave [work]. I’ve heard from business owners about the impact of that, I’ve heard from workers about the impact of that.

Republican State Senator John Reagan agrees that the cost of childcare is a big issue, and that parents who cannot send their children to full-day kindergarten have to find alternatives for care.

I have to be concerned about the single mothers or single parents or both poorly employed parents who need some help, and would have these children in a safe place every day for whatever number of hours it is.

However, he disagrees that full-day kindergarten is the most effective, and most cost-saving, solution for providing childcare.

The dilemma that the parents have, many of whom push for full-day kindergarten, is they can’t find adequate child care. Could they find adequate childcare, this wouldn’t be a problem. So that’s a question: how do we encourage and how do we promote the creation of daycare facilities for children, and the debate about what works best at what age will go on forever.

Would an increased state budget for kindergarten be enough for schools who want to move to full-day programs?

Jason Moon, reporter for NHPR, spoke to Londonderry Superintendent Nate Greenberg, who says that state funding only covers a small portion of the cost of education.

When the state says we’ll pay for kindergarten, what does "we’ll pay for" mean? Does "we’ll pay for" mean "we’ll cover the cost of staff?" Does "we’ll pay for" mean "we’ll cover the cost of construction?" Will "we’ll pay for" include furniture, technology, staffing – you know, what does it mean?

Moon says that one of the major challenges is space.

Lots of towns want to do this but literally can’t fit all the kids in the building at the same time…for some districts it’s more complicated than just "can we afford to hire two new teachers," it’s "can we afford to build two new classrooms and hire more bus drivers, more buses.”

Feltes says that if schools can afford to implement full-day programs, their communities will see economic growth, as more parents relocate in order to send their children to these schools. 

Should this be a state issue or a local issue?

Both Reagan and Feltes agree that local districts should be able to decide whether or not they provide full-day kindergarten. Feltes reaffirms that under his bill, school districts would be able to choose whether or not they accept increased funding should the bill to double kindergarten state funding pass.

However, Reagan thinks that spending decisions should remain at the local level, so that taxpayers can decide if they want their property taxes to increase in order to fund full-day kindergarten.

I can support this on a [warrant] article in my town, I can vote for it, because I know what that impact will be to my property tax bill…It’s up to those folks in those communities to debate the issue, and that’s why we have town meetings.

Read more of Moon's coverage of full-day kindergarten and other New Hampshire education stories