Gov. Sununu urges funding kindergarten statewide
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu put his political weight behind full-day kindergarten when he unveiled a $12.1 billion budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 at a joint session of the state House and Senate Thursday.
"I'm proud today to be the first governor to provide a full-day kindergarten program," Sununu said Thursday during the address to legislators.
Sununu urged funding full-day kindergarten at a cost of $9 million a year, but his approach, according to media reports, would not ramp up the per-pupil spending but rather target grants to needy communities.
Under pending legislation, in fiscal year 2018, the state would provide a total increase of $14.538 million in adequate education grants for traditional public schools and an additional $350,880 for eligible public charter schools to pay for full-day kindergarten.
This legislation would add $261,792 to Laconia School District's budget in 2018.
HB155 increases funding for pupils attending full-day kindergarten programs by amending current law, which only allocates a per-pupil base adequacy cost of $1,818, or a half-day attendance rate. Under the bill, the rate would rise to a full-day rate, or $3,636.
Prior to Thursday's address from the governor, legislators were waiting to see if Sununu would follow through on campaign promises to invest in full-day kindergarten.
Earlier this week, State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said he hoped the governor would put the program in his budget.
"It's past-time to treat full-day kindergarten like any other grade. It's only fair to our kids, to the school districts that chose to go to full-day, and to the local taxpayers," he said.
Not all legislators embrace the idea of spending more on kindergarten programs.
State Rep. Peter J. Spanos, R-Winnisquam, who serves on the House Finance Committee, said, "Having taught kindergarten from time to time, my experience indicates that HB155 is cumbersome and unnecessary. When it comes to education, parental involvement trumps all."
Sununu also unveiled a $5 million fund for high school scholarships designed to help 1,000 students each year and to create "workforce gateways."
To confront the state's opioid crisis, the governor urged funding of 10 additional state troopers to focus on drug interdiction, and budgeting of Operation Granite Hammer, a multi-agency law enforcement initiative that focuses on heroin and opioid drug trafficking. He also targeted student loan forgiveness for those working in drug-addiction treatment.
In the area of mental health funding, Sununu proposed a $57 million increase in funding for the developmentally disabled to address wait lists; and additional staffing for the Division for Children, Youth and Families.
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