Legislature to review all-day kindergarten

1/15/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas House Republicans formed a committee Tuesday to study the merits of Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to increase funding for all-day kindergarten. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said the committee of seven Republicans and two Democrats will look at Brownback's plan, as well as studies about the benefits of the extra time in school.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas House Republicans formed a committee Tuesday to study the merits of Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to increase funding for all-day kindergarten. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said the committee of seven Republicans and two Democrats will look at Brownback's plan, as well as studies about the benefits of the extra time in school.

"There are many school districts in the state that already have all-day kindergarten, so the committee will have numerous case studies to look over," Merrick said.

Brownback announced in December that he wanted to increase funding for all-day kindergarten. The first year would cost $16 million, increasing by the same amount until fully funded at more than $80 million in the fifth year.

Nearly all the state's 286 school districts provide all-day kindergarten. The program is funded with existing state aid However, several school districts charge parents to make up the cost of providing the additional instruction. Tuition costs range from $270 to $1,350 a semester.

In the Shawnee Mission district in Johnson County, parents pay $300 a month for all-day kindergarten classes. But David Morantz, a 38-year-old Leawood attorney whose 5-year-old daughter is a kindergartner there, is skeptical of the proposal.

"The money for that has to come from somewhere else, because we know that he's not going to raise taxes," Morantz said.

Brownback is expected to discuss the initiative Wednesday evening during his State of the State address. The annual speech will be broadcast live from the House chambers on public television statewide.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley has raised questions about Brownback's kindergarten plan as well as the state's ability to restore funding for higher education and the corrections system, in light of the tax cuts enacted in 2012.

Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said new revenue projections from legislative researchers suggest that Kansas would have to cut spending by more than $950 million over the next five years to keep the state budget balanced. The figure grows to more than $1.4 billion over that period to maintain a statutory requirement that the state maintain reserves equal to 7.5 percent of state general fund revenues.

"I think it's worth looking at. My conclusion is those tax cuts are going to bankrupt the state," Hensley said.

Sara Belfry, a spokeswoman for the governor, declined to discuss the budget projections, saying Brownback will outline his priorities Wednesday in his address and Thursday when the budget is released to legislators.

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Associated Press writer John Hanna contributed to this report from Topeka.

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