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Kindergarten plan garners attention

1/30/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

A member of Hays USD 489 Board of Education has doubts the local school district will receive any additional money from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal for the state to fund all-day kindergarten.

Currently, school districts that have all-day kindergarten split costs down the middle with the state. According to an Associated Press report, all but approximately 15 of the state's 286 school districts provide all-day kindergarten, including USD 489.

Brownback's plan is to phase in the state paying 100 percent for all-day kindergarten by the end of the five-year span. The first year, in fiscal year 2015, funding would be at $16.3 million. In succeeding years, the funding would increase by the same amount.

By the end of the fifth year, state funding for all-day kindergarten under Brownback's plan would be at 100 percent, or $81.5 million. The five-year phase-in would have a total cost of $244.5 million.

"Barring additional revenue to the state of Kansas, whether that is through increased spending in the state, increased property taxes or increased sales taxes, there is no way Gov. Brownback can pay for this without cutting other funding," USD 489 board president Greg Schwartz said in an email when contacted by the HDN. "The promises made by Brownback will never come to fruition without additional revenue. There is nothing to indicate the state tax revenues will increase this year. I suspect, that based on his elimination of the income tax, that these revenues will sharply decline. This will result in no funding for post-secondary education and no funding for all-day kindergarten as promised by Gov. Brownback."

Sally Cauble, Dodge City, who represents District 5 on the state Board of Education, said in her eight years on the board, it has favored all-day kindergarten. She said the state's funding of all-day kindergarten would allow school districts to allocate resources in other areas.

"We have not taken a vote as a board to support the governor," Cauble said. "It's more like the governor is supporting what we have asked for."

Cauble said studies show all-day kindergarten is vital for student learning.

"The research is showing that children that have all-day kindergarten do much better in school," Cauble said.

Some legislators aren't sure of the benefits of all-day kindergarten. Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, is the chairwoman of the House Education Committee. She expressed her doubts to the Kansas City Star in a story earlier this month.

"Do I think it's probably beneficial for a child? Probably not," she told the newspaper.

Sue Boldra, R-Hays, told The Hays Daily News earlier this week she was in favor of Brownback's plan, when it was her understanding total funding would be $80 million. Once informed, Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for the Kansas Department of Education, had the larger total funding amount, according to what he told the HDN, Boldra said she still supported the concept of all-day kindergarten, but she also would have to look at the fiscal realities facing the Legislature. Sara Belfry, deputy director of communications for Brownback, also told the HDN total funding would be approximately $240 million during the five-year phase-in period.

"No, it does not change my position at this time," Boldra said. "However, we may have to look at the reality of our finances at this time. I have an open mind on where we're going to finally land on this."

Boldra will serve on a House special committee to examine the issue. She said there will be testimony given before the committee. Belfry said the governor will not testify before the committee.

"He usually does not testify before committees," Belfry said. "If someone from our office is asked to testify before a committee, it's usually the chief of staff or a policy director."

Belfry said the governor's proposal would allow school districts that now are responsible for funding half of all-day kindergarten to use their resources in other areas.

"School districts fund all-day kindergarten a couple different ways," Belfry said. "They may just use local funding, they may use some at-risk dollars, or they may charge fees to parents for all-day kindergarten.

"So this would either reduce those fees for parents, enable school districts to use at-risk dollars someplace else that they need to use those dollars, or use the local funding in a different way."

Cauble wouldn't hazard a guess on the chances the governor's proposal would make it through the Legislature.

"I just don't think I would be willing to make an opinion on that with our current legislators," she said. "I think they are unpredictable. ... I think the bottom line is, the state has very few funds, and how these legislators are going to work that out I think is anybody's guess."

Cauble said another factor is a pending ruling by the state Supreme Court on school finance.

"I really think, too, that until we get the ruling from the court, I think everybody's kind of put some things on hold," she said.

The court's ruling might be the school districts' best chance for increased funding, Schwartz said.

"The only hope for public education in the state of Kansas is the Kansas Supreme Court," he said. "I do not like the Supreme Court or any court telling the state of Kansas how to spend its money, but when they violate the Kansas Constitution, they have placed the Supreme Court into a position where they have no other alternative."