Saturday, January 11, 2014

Legislative leaders cool to Brownback’s state funding of full-day kindergarten

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Legislative leaders on Friday sounded cool to Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal for the state to fund full-day kindergarten.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said the proposal was "a very complicated issue."

He noted the pricetag — $16 million in additional funding each year for five years — and that most school districts have managed to implement full-day kindergarten under the current system.

"The Legislature needs to study it," Merrick said.

Last month, Brownback said one of his major proposals for the legislative session that starts Monday would be providing state funding for full-day kindergarten.

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.

School superintendents across the state, including Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll, praised the idea.

But Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said her misgivings about the proposal were linked to the current school finance lawsuit pending before the Kansas Supreme Court. Plaintiff districts have won a lower court ruling that the state needs to increase school funding because of budget cuts over the past several years.

Wagle said her fear was that the money pumped into full-day kindergarten wouldn't be counted by the court when considering base state aid per pupil funding.

"Everything is questionable right now," she said. "It's difficult for me to put money into something that doesn't put money into the base, and won't be counted by this court."