Brownback touts all-day kindergarten during school visit; lawmaker says plan could change

03/04/2014 5:33 PM

08/08/2014 10:22 AM

The day before a key legislative meeting on all-day kindergarten, Gov. Sam Brownback took his push for it to an elementary school in Maize.

Brownback toured Vermillion Elementary School, including two all-day-kindergarten classes, before making a speech touting his proposal to make all-day kindergarten part of every school in the state.

But a member of a special House task force scheduled to meet Wednesday said the plan for all-day kindergarten could become part of a larger and potentially more contentious change in the way schools are funded.

The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether the Legislature is meeting its constitutional burden to suitably fund schools, and some lawmakers have proposed rewriting the entire school-finance formula if the court orders them to provide more base state funding.

Brownback told an audience of students, teachers, administrators and board members that the time to act on all-day kindergarten is now. He appeared frustrated by the Legislature’s lukewarm response to his proposal, the major goal he outlined for the year in his State of the State speech in January.

“I’m the third governor to ask for all-day-kindergarten funding,” Brownback said. “And each time it comes up, it’s like ‘well, maybe, yeah, I don’t know, OK, not’ is what ends up happening.”

Like many districts, Maize offers free half-day kindergarten, with all-day as an option for parents who can pay $225 a month for it. The district allows its free-lunch-eligible students to attend free and prorates the cost for students who are eligible for reduced-price lunches.

“We pay for half of K and all of (grade) 12, when most of the studies, if not all of the studies, actually say you’d be better off paying a lot more on the K end and less at the other end, I mean if you want to get effective with your dollars,” Brownback said.

After the speech, Brownback praised the classes he’d toured.

“They’re playing, but they’re playing at things that they’re learning, the numbers and words,” he said. “And you’re going: This is a key time to get that child’s mind really engaged in moving in a positive direction.”

Brownback proposed phasing in funding for all-day kindergarten by adding $16 million a year to the school budget for five years, ultimately adding up to an $80 million annual cost.

“This is a big commitment to do, but I think the yield on it is so important and we’re at a point in time where we can do it,” Brownback said.

The House Special Committee on All Day Kindergarten is scheduled to meet Wednesday and could propose a compromise with the governor that would reopen the formula for funding schools overall, said Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, a member of the committee.

“The kind of money you need to do a (new) formula is the kind of money he’s talking about here,” Huebert said. “And when we did that, we could do it all together including all-day kindergarten.

“Instead of locking into how he’s got his plan written now, we’ll probably pass something this year, come back after the (November) election and in next year’s session look at the formula itself and maybe tying it all together.”

That could mean lawmakers would fund the first year of the program and then try to rewrite the school-finance formula next year.

Brownback said he couldn’t give a good answer on how the upcoming ruling in the school-finance lawsuit might affect his plans.

“It’s really getting difficult late in the session for a Supreme Court ruling this session to be able to be handled,” Brownback said. “We’re treating it like, look, we’re moving forward. ... We’ll just have to see what the court rules.”

Maize administrators helped Brownback make his case for all-day kindergarten.

“We know for every dollar that we invest in our early education programs, we reap $11 later on,” said superintendent Doug Powers. “We have to go back with at-risk programs and interventions for students who have not been successful early on.”

About 275 students, roughly half of the Maize district’s kindergartners, are in all-day classes, he said.

“We still do have parents who prefer a half-day program over a full-day program, but with funding from the state, we would remove any obstacle that might be in the way of parents making that decision for their child,” he said.

One of the teachers whose classes Brownback visited said all-day kindergarten is challenging and she’s thankful for parent volunteers who help in the classroom.

“Every day is something a little different,” Lindsey Vincent said. “They change so much day to day from where they start at the beginning of the year. It’s incredible.”

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