CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire lawmakers appointed to develop a compromise plan to provide public funding for full-day kindergarten reached a deal Thursday, moving one of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s priorities another step forward.
Nearly 75 percent of New Hampshire communities already offer full-day kindergarten, but the state only pays half the standard per-student amount for those pupils, or about $1,800.
The amendment approved by a committee of conference would provide an additional $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student and would legalize the online lottery game Keno to help pay for it. The plan also guarantees the funding even if Keno revenues aren’t enough to cover the grants.
Democrats complained that the plan doesn’t provide the full standard amount per pupil, but Republicans called it a solid first step.
“It’s good for New Hampshire’s kindergarten students, it’s good for their parents, it’s good for our overall state,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “It may not be perfect … but it’s a reasonable way to proceed.”
The state Senate has repeatedly rejected Keno and other forms of gambling. Bradley said he’s never voted for a casino or Keno, making this plan “a stretch.”
“But that’s just what we have to do sometimes for the greater good, and this amendment represents the greater good,” he said.
Rep. Mary Heath, a Manchester Democrat and retired educator, said full-day kindergarten has been a priority of hers in the Legislature, but she would vote against the plan “with a heavy heart” because it leaves school districts that have already lost other forms of state aid again carrying heavy tax burdens. Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, expressed similar disappointment, and noted that the Senate had earlier supported full funding.
“One of the first things I learned in kindergarten was: Keep your word,” he said.
Sununu described the bill as “one of the most transformative pieces of legislation, and more progress for kindergarten than this state has ever seen.” He said as revenues increase, the amount of funding could increase.
“This is not a time for partisan politics, we need to get this done,” he said. “I’m very confident that members of both parties can come together over the next week to get this legislation to my desk.”
The full House and Senate will vote on the plan next week.