For those of you who lament that public schools aren't a bigger campaign issue from the presidential race on down, take heart: Kindergarten has now become part of the New Hampshire gubernatorial contest.
The group on the attack this time is the Democratic Governors Association, which is attempting to help Maggie Hassan beat her GOP opponent, Ovide Lamontagne, in the New Hampshire contest. On Sept. 18, the DGA sent out a fundraising appeal that ran, in part, as follows: "[Lamontagne is] actually okay eliminating mandatory public kindergarten if it means more tax cuts for the wealthy - he wasn't kidding when he called himself 'Scott Walker on steroids.' Lamontagne needs to know we won't stand for his extreme anti-education agenda. Join us in telling Ovide Lamontagne, 'Leave kindergarten alone.'"
Here's the background. In this video, LaMontagne and a rival for the GOP nomination for governor, Kevin Smith, discuss the role of local districts and communities in deciding whether or not to have kindergarten. (Lamontagne, who used to be chairman of the state Board of Education, subsequently defeated Smith for the GOP nomination.) At the beginning of the video, Lamontagne says the following: "The decision about whether to have kindergarten is a decision for the communities and the school districts of our state."
The state mandate to provide all students access to kindergarten is, in fact, fairly new. The state legislature approved the mandate in 2007 by including kindergarten as part of an "adequate education."
There's also an audio clip linked to by MSNBC and others where Lamontagne appears on a radio program discussing comments about state Rep. Bob Kingsbury, who alleged that kindergarten attendance leads to higher crime rates. When asked about Kingsbury's comments, Lamontagne began by saying, "Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is America, after all," and subsequently said the government should allow local officials to make educational decisions.
Now, it's important to note here that in his education platform, Lamontagne doesn't single out kindergarten, except in the general "K-12" sense, although he does stress that more local control should be returned to communities. As for the "Scott Walker on steroids" claim, Talking Points Memo reported that the Republican candidate described himself as such to a local reporter for Patch, but at the moment I can't find the original Patch article where he's quoted saying that.
I called up Lamontagne's spokesman, Tom Cronin, who said that the candidate's opposition to the mandate did not mean that he opposed kindergarten itself, only that local communities should decide for themselves whether to have it and how to pay for it. He also said that the difference between Lamontagne and Hassan boiled down to political philosophy.
"In Maggie's position, everything should be run through Concord," Cronin said, referring to the state capital.