Kansas governor seeks all-day kindergarten funding

Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday that a five-year, $80 million plan he expects to propose next month would allow all kindergarten students in Kansas public schools to attend full-day programs with the state picking up the bill.

The first $16 million would come in the 2014-2015 school year, with the same amount spent each of the following four school years as well.

“I’ve put a big focus on trying to get higher reading scores early on. I think this is one of the next steps that we need to do,” the Republican governor told The Associated Press in an interview.

The proposal will be part of the budget recommendation Brownback will send to legislators in January for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014. Kansas already spends more than $3 billion on public schools each year.

Brownback said he has had talks with school districts and state education officials about the proposal, which he said has broad support. The State Board of Education has made all-day kindergarten one of its budget requests for the past several years.

The state now only pays for half-day kindergarten. Districts that want all-day programs must find other funding sources to cover the full-day costs. Those funds can include ones appropriated for at-risk students.

All but about 15 of the state’s 286 districts provide all-day kindergarten, said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for fiscal and administrative services for the Kansas Department of Education. Most use money they receive from the state for at-risk students to pay the additional staffing costs, while another 20 or so districts charge parents per semester for all-day instruction, he said.

Dennis said all-day kindergarten fees for parents ranges from $270 a semester to $1,350 a semester.

“It depends on the community and what they can pay,” he said. “There’s a lot of public pressure not to charge. The majority don’t.”

Legislators have already approved a $14 increase in base state aid per pupil for the next academic year – part of a two-year budget that lawmakers approved in June. The money for all-day kindergarten would be an additional, targeted investment in education aimed at helping boost student skills at an early age.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who is running for governor in 2014, said he supported putting more money in early childhood education, as well as increasing overall spending to levels not seen since the Great Recession hit in 2008.

“All-day kindergarten fees have gone up dramatically for parents across Kansas because he made the largest cut to public education funding in state history,” Davis said, referring to Brownback. “The No. 1 priority should be restoring the cuts Gov. Brownback already made and fully funding our schools.”

Brownback told the AP that funding has increased, though the state has not replaced all the money for schools that was provided through federal stimulus funding. He estimated $100 million of the $200 million has been restored, but said other investments have been made, such as increased funding for technical education and teacher pensions.