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Eagle editorial: Kindergarten funds welcome

  • Published Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at 12 a.m.

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Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for proposing that the state start funding all-day kindergarten – though school districts would rather the state fund base school aid at its statutorily required level.

Currently, the state pays for only half-day kindergarten. Brownback proposed this week phasing in full funding over the next five years, which would cost the state an additional $16 million each year, for a total increase of about $80 million.

As Brownback noted, all-day kindergarten is a good investment that improves reading and other skills. That’s why nearly all Kansas school districts, including Wichita, already provide all-day kindergarten – paying for it either by transferring money from elsewhere in their budgets or charging parents a fee.

Having the state pay for all-day kindergarten is not a new idea. The State Board of Education has requested it for years, and former Govs. Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius both proposed it. Maybe this time, with a conservative governor backing it, the Legislature will agree.

In the past, there has been opposition to all-day kindergarten by some parents. The state doesn’t require students to attend all-day kindergarten, or kindergarten at all. That wouldn’t change under Brownback’s proposal.

Though the additional funding would be welcome, it needs to be put in context.

Kansas is supposed to be funding base state aid at $4,492 per pupil. This year, it’s at $3,838 per pupil. As a result, districts are receiving about $437 million less this school year than what is required by state statute.

Wichita’s shortfall, including the loss of capital outlay matching funds, is about $59 million a year. In comparison, Wichita’s extra cost for all-day kindergarten is about $8.5 million (which the governor proposes to fully pay for five years from now).

There is even some question whether the state will fully pay the $3,838-per-pupil amount this school year. New estimates show funding will fall $17.8 million short this year unless there is a supplemental budget.

The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule by early next year on a school-funding lawsuit. A three-judge panel already ruled that state funding is unconstitutionally low and should increase by more than $400 million.

If the Supreme Court agrees, which seems likely, the additional $16 million next year for all-day kindergarten may be dropped. But if the state starts funding schools at the level it is supposed to, the extra kindergarten money won’t be as important.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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