The beginning of the school year in New Hampshire also marks the first step towards an increase in state funding for full-day kindergarten services.
The expansion of full-day kindergarten was proposed in previous legislative sessions but found success in SB 191, a Republican-backed education effort funded by tax revenue from a newly authorized gambling game, Keno 603. The New Hampshire Lottery will oversee the popular bar game, with the revenues directed to the Education Trust Fund.
Currently, communities adopting full-day kindergarten programs assume funding for full adequacy, which is $1,800. Under the new law, communities implementing full-day services will be provided an additional $1,100 per pupil by the state starting in 2018.
The bill received bipartisan support from the state legislature, an endorsement from local business and community leaders, and the signature of Governor Chris Sununu on July 12.
New Hampshire joined seven other states in funding full-day kindergarten, according to the National Education Association.
Rebecca Woitkowski, an early childhood policy coordinator at New Futures, a nonpartisan advocacy organization in Concord, said in an interview with NH Journal that the implementation delay is not unusual for education policy.
She attributed this to the need for school districts to determine how many students are enrolled in the program and report those figures to the Department of Education before payouts occur. Woitkowski added some districts who applied for full-day kindergarten programs in the interim may receive a payout based on enrollment numbers rather than daily attendance records.
The law is not a mandate, with several cities and towns choosing not to offer full-day kindergarten programs. While school districts in Concord do not offer the service, Manchester School District and five schools in the Nashua School District offer full-day kindergarten.
Woitkowski said one of the biggest obstacles to districts adopting full-day services is budget constraints. She stated building assistance and a worker shortage are additional factors for communities deciding against implementing the program.
Though the law was passed with overwhelming support, Woitkowski argued there is still work to be done to address the program’s cost concerns. Woitkowski said the original bill covered the cost of full adequacy before it was negotiated down in conference between the two legislative houses based on Keno revenue estimates.
Woitkowski applauded the bill as an overall positive move for both schools and children around the state.
“The reason why we support full-day kindergarten programs is that early education has proven to be very important for the health and well-being of students, especially in the face of the opioid epidemic,” Woitkowski said. “The ability to be in a full-day program with healthy adults is very vital to the mitigation of that and helps improve the lifelong trajectory of children.”
Proponents of the plan are also encouraged by the new potential revenue source through taxing Keno. In 2016, the game raised more than $900 million for Massachusetts.
Lynda Plante, deputy director of New Hampshire Lottery, said in an interview with NH Journal that the agency is anticipating Keno operations in 250 locations across the state while generating an estimated $43 million in total sales revenue. The Education Trust Fund, which will finance the full-day kindergarten program, is projected to receive an estimated $8 million.
Communities won’t have immediate access to Keno, since voters must choose whether or not to allow the game to take place in their municipalities. Most referendums will make it on the ballot by November, while some will be voted on in the spring of 2018.
Plante stated her organization has placed an emphasis on educating voters regarding any questions they have about Keno before heading to the ballot box. Plante said some community leaders have expressed hesitation about the plan but added most are leaving the choice up to the voters.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for communities that already have [full-day kindergarten] to get additional funding,” Plante said. “I’m not sure what other opportunities we’ll have to get another $8 million for education. We’re answering the questions and letting the voters say ‘Yes, we’d like New Hampshire Lottery to do this,’ or ‘No, we don’t’ and we’ll go from there.”