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New Hampshire Gambles on Big Payout for Full-Day Kindergarten

new_hampshire_kindergarten.jpgThe New Hampshire legislature has passed a bill to help the state's school districts pay for full-day kindergarten by legalizing and taxing electronic Keno gambling machines.

(For those who, like me, do not know what Keno is: Wikipedia describes it as a lottery-like game where you win money by matching numbers generated by a computer.) 

The bill, which passed Thursday, is headed to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu for his signature. Sununu, who is in his first term, has made full-day kindergarten a legislative priority.

In New Hampshire, about 70 percent school districts already offer full-day kindergarten, and those districts account for about 80 percent of the state's kindergarten students. But those districts weren't getting any state support to offer the programs—the state funds each district $1,800 for a kindergarten student, but for students in grades 1-12, districts receive $3,600. 

Under the new bill, districts will receive $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student starting in 2019. Additional tax revenues could mean more for the district, but the bill said the disbursement won't drop below $1,100. Democrats in the state wanted school districts to receive an additional $1,800 for kindergarten students, and other lawmakers said they were troubled by the funding mechanism. But the measure ended up passing easily: The vote counts 251-111 in the New Hampshire House and 15-8 in the state's senate.

"I am proud to be the first governor to deliver a real full-day kindergarten program for communities across our state, which will close the opportunity gap and provide students, regardless of their economic status, an extra step up as they enter the first grade. Full-day kindergarten is good for children and families, and a critical tool in retaining our future workforce," Sununu said in a statement after the bill cleared the legislature. 

State Kindergarten Policies Vary Widely

With all the policy focus on prekindergarten, it's easy to forget that full-day kindergarten is optional in most states, and that many states don't require students to attend school until age 6. The Education Commission of the States reported last year that only 13 states and the District of Columbia require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, though many districts, including in New Hampshire, offer a full-day program on their own, paying for it through local tax revenues or through tuition.

There's also some variation within states: For example, Wyoming requires at least one school in a district to offer a full-day program. In New Jersey, the state's highest-poverty school districts, known as Abbott districts, must also offer full-day kindergarten. In other New Jersey districts, it's optional. 


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