DOVER — Sen. David Watters never made a secret of his belief that full-day kindergarten should be a state obligation. Now, having succeeded in getting the state to encourage schools to adopt full-day kindergarten with the promise of a stipend from keno revenue, he is ready to make that support part of adequacy aid.
“If it takes two steps instead of one, I’ll take those two steps,” he said during a telephone interview on Friday morning.
“We got the money guaranteed last year, but who knows if keno ever gets to full funding?” he asked.
Earlier this week, the state announced that it would be distributing nearly $11 million in kindergarten aid, based on the first-day census of schools offering full-day kindergarten. Keno revenue provided $2.1 million toward that obligation; the rest came from the state’s general fund.
Keno 603 posted nearly $11.7 million in sales, but winnings and administration of the game took up the lion’s share that revenue. However, it was a short year: The game did not launch until mid-December, and the revenue was calculated at the end of August. Maura McCann of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission said the game is now averaging more than $450,000 a week in sales, and more businesses are lining up to offer the game.
Watters said he plans to introduce a bill for the next legislative session that would include full-day kindergarten as part of state adequacy aid. Keno revenue would be reassigned to support school building aid, which the state has not offered in recent years.
“We’ve been five or six years without building aid,” Watters said. “We offer funding for emergency safety issues, and some money is available at the discretion of the governor, but, given the life cycle of these buildings, we need $50 million a year to keep up.”
Dover recently built a new high school with no aid from the state, he said, but other school districts have been deferring action because of the cost.
“It’s hard for taxpayers to face the full cost of a building project,” he said.
During the debate leading up to the keno vote last year, the House Finance Committee had projected first-year keno revenue at $4 million, provided that the communities in southern New Hampshire with the highest population base voted to allow the game. The bill provided that each community would have the option of accepting or denying keno, but each still would be eligible for the $1,100-per-student stipend for full-time kindergarten students.
Watters said last year that, once 90 percent of the school districts were offering full-day kindergarten, he expected to have the bipartisan support for including the funding as part of the regular budget process.
“I think the keno issue will be moot at that point,” he said.
State building aid was suspended in 2010, although it continued for a few years for projects that had been approved prior to the moratorium.
Amy Clark, who manages the school building aid program for the New Hampshire Department of Education, estimated in early 2017 that $650 million worth of building projects were on hold because of the lack of funding.