Our Opinion: N.H. Senate should follow in House's footsteps

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Senators in the Granite State recently voted 21 to 2 to support a bill to fund full-day kindergarten, which would send aid based on a community's tax base, its number of low-income students and those who speak English as a second language.

The vote was a rare display of bipartisanship in New Hampshire, but it still needs approval from the House of Representatives, which, as NHPR's Josh Rogers noted, "(D)ivining what's reasonable in the New Hampshire House, which couldn't manage to pass a budget this session, isn't easy right now."

Full-day kindergarten has been a pet project of the newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu. On Tuesday, Sununu testified before a legislative committee, making it clear he sees the policy as one that could define his time as governor.

"I am very proud to sit here and say that I am the first governor to put forth a viable full-day, real kindergarten for the communities across this state," Sununu told legislators. "I believe in it very passionately."

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas told the legislative committee it could also help the state address its opioid epidemic. "And if we don't have a place where they can get a full-rounded education for the opportunities that are before them, we are going to lose those kids to special needs, and those are going to cost us more dollars," Gatsas said.

It's unclear how the House will vote, but Rep. Victoria Sullivan opposes it because she believes it will erode parental control.

"I know there is going to be at least, probably close to 100 Republicans who will vote against this, because we know the next step is full-day funded kindergarten, mandated, mandated means parents don't have any choice," she said.

Rogers notes that even with the level of opposition suggested by Sullivan, the bill still could pass in the House. "The promise of more money for the 104 communities that now pay for full day kindergarten on their own is just part of it. Backers are pitching the bill as being about more than education. For Sununu, the lack of universal full-day kindergarten is also a vulnerability as he tries to woo businesses to relocate here."

In an op-ed published by N.H. Political Buzz, Sullivan wrote "Several comprehensive studies have shown that placing children in full day programs, prior to age six, provides the participants with limited educational benefits, while increasing behavioral issues in young children. Even at age six, education experts around the world agree that learning should be play based and not the sit in your chair for six hours education that the U.S. has adopted."

And, she wrote, state funding of kindergarten would soon be followed by pre-k funding, something she also opposes.

"Decisions regarding early childhood education should be kept between parents, teachers, and local school boards. State funded and, eventually, mandated early childhood education has no lasting benefits. In fact, it can actually have a negative impact."

Sullivan writes that supporters of the bill have offered arguments that are largely economic, ranging from easing tax burdens to giving parents the ability to enter back into the workforce. "None of the arguments consider the child. Not all children are ready for full time school at age five."

But as any working or stay-at-home parent can tell you, what's best for a child is often having two income earners in the family. Very few families in the Granite State can afford to have only one person bringing home the bacon.

According to N.H. Business Review's Bob Sanders, "studies confirm that New Hampshire's disparity has been growing sharply. From 1979 to 2007, the wealthiest 1 percent in New Hampshire captured 35.5 percent of the state's income growth, according to tax data. From 2009 to 2011 — the heart of the recession — that same group grabbed an 83.3 percent share of the income."

In other words, the families that have reaped the majority of the benefits from the post-2007 economy are also the families that can afford full-day childcare. Meanwhile, the Granite State's shrinking middle class is struggling to make ends meet while providing adequate day care for their children. So whether or not New Hampshire decides to fund kindergarten, and eventually pre-k, parents will continue to need child care for their pre-elementary-school-aged children. It's all well and good to say it should be up to parents and local school boards to decide about funding these programs, but it can also be said that parents should be given the option of sending their children to state-funded pre-k and kindergarten, especially in lower-income communities.

We would urge the N.H. House of Representatives to exercise the bi-partisanship exhibited by the Senate and approve the legislation.


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