Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Brownback proposes fully funding all-day kindergarten

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday proposed that the state provide $80 million over five years to fully fund all-day kindergarten.

In the Lawrence school district, where approximately 850 kindergarten students already attend all day, state funding would mean an additional $2.2 million in revenue, Lawrence district officials said.

"Funding full-day kindergarten is one of USD 497's highest legislative priorities," said Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll.

Currently the state provides funding for half-day kindergarten, with the remaining portion funded through local dollars. The increased funding, Brownback said, would come out of financial balances that have been built up over the past couple of years.

"Numerous studies show that all-day kindergarten results in students who are more involved, productive and ready to read at appropriate grade levels," Brownback said.

Brownback's plan would provide an additional $16 million in state funds for each of the next 5 years, or $80 million in total.

He announced the proposal as he held a series of interviews with reporters in preparation for the 2014 legislative session that starts Jan. 13.

Lawrence doesn't charge a fee for all-day kindergarten, but some districts do.

The Eudora school district charges a fee of $250 per semester to cover the cost not covered by state aide. Eudora Superintendent Don Grosdidier said the fees were implemented after the district experienced budget cuts.

Brownback's proposal quickly launched a political response over cuts to education and a pending court ruling that schools have been shortchanged hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The No. 1 priority should be restoring the cuts Gov. Brownback already made and fully funding our schools," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Democrat from Lawrence who is running against Brownback for governor in 2014.

The Kansas Supreme Court is weighing arguments in a lawsuit that could force the Legislature to increase school funding by more than $500 million per year. A lower court panel ruled the state unconstitutionally cut funding while also approving massive tax cuts.

In an interview with the Journal-World, Brownback declined to say how the state would respond if the court ordered a funding increase. A ruling is expected in the next month or so.

"Let's see what they do," he said of the court. "My major effort is going to be to see that the schools are not shut down."

He said the all-day kindergarten proposal came about through meetings with legislative leaders and school officials.

On another education front, Brownback said, "I'm not hearing any consensus view," from legislative leaders when it comes to higher education funding.

Earlier this year, Republican leaders approved cutting $34.3 million in state funding over two years to the public universities, making Kansas one of the few states in the country to reduce higher education funding. Higher Education officials said the cuts were responsible for a portion of the most recent tuition increases.

Brownback signed those cuts into law, but he has said he wants to restore the funding.