Wednesday, January 15, 2014

House GOP leaders form committee to look at Brownback’s full-day kindergarten plan

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN.  — Republican House leaders on Tuesday announced the formation of a committee to study Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal for the state to fully fund all-day kindergarten.

"The goal of the committee is to ensure that taxpayers get the largest return on additional early childhood investment," House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said.

Brownback said his plan to phase-in over 5 years $80 million in state funding for full-day kindergarten would help students and school districts.

But Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, have voiced doubts about the proposal, saying that most school districts already manage to fund full-day kindergarten. And Democrats say Brownback's income tax cuts mean the state doesn't have money to fund the proposal.

Currently the state provides funding for half-day kindergarten. Local revenue or other funds are used to fund the rest of the costs in districts with full-day programs.

"Traditionally, decisions regarding the funding of specific programs, such as all-day kindergarten, have been made by locally elected school boards," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg. "The Legislature should carefully consider how to best invest in our children's education before committing to an additional $80-plus million," he said.

The committee will be made up of seven Republicans and two Democrats and be appointed in the next several days.

Rachel Whitten, a spokeswoman for Merrick, said House GOP leaders decided to appoint a special committee since the proposal requires both policy and budget decisions.