Let Our 5-Year-Olds Play: No to Full-Day Kindergarten Bill (SB 191, 2017)

Delivered to House Finance Committee by Shannon McGinley, Cornerstone Executive Director:

Cornerstone Action urges the House Finance Committee to vote “inexpedient to legislate” on SB 191 as written.

Although we acknowledge the best intentions of the bill’s supporters, we must oppose SB 191. We recognize that this committee is focused on its fiscal impact to our state so I will first point out that our legislature has not agreed upon a state budget, therefore it seems fiscally irresponsible to commit to such a $14 million expense. Additionally, there are higher priorities that need financial resources like the opioid crisis, among other non-negotiable and less controversial fiscal responsibilities of our state.

I would be remiss to not share our two principal reasons for opposition: the bill creates momentum for making full-day kindergarten mandatory, and full-day publicly-funded kindergarten with its inevitable testing and benchmarks may not be developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds.

While SB 191’s supporters like to say that full-day kindergarten would simply be an option for more districts with the funds allocated by the bill, we hold that the expansion encouraged and funded by SB 191 would put pressure on districts statewide to abandon half-day programs in favor of full-day kindergarten. We fear that making full-day kindergarten state-funded makes mandatory full-day kindergarten inevitable, sooner rather than later.

Our second concern is closely related to the first: we have serious concerns about how developmentally appropriate a full-day kindergarten program may be when it’s funded by the state and subject to standards and curriculum influences that might not originate locally. As kindergarten becomes a place of benchmarks and formal testing, play-based learning will take a back seat, and that would be detrimental to our children. For example, it has been proven that the Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate, especially for these younger grades. We are greatly concerned about the emotional health of these little five-year-olds.

Cornerstone would like to bring to the committee a concern we have heard from many of our supporters: children whose families want private or faith-based education for their 5-year-olds would get no help from SB 191. In fact, expansion of funding for public kindergarten would spell doom for many private and faith-based kindergartens that could not compete financially with the “free” public program, leaving little or no option of ½ day kindergarten for those families who believe that is best for their child. I have five sons and I can remember the boys often falling asleep at the table while eating lunch with me after picking them up at 11:30 from ½ day private kindergarten.

Left out of the kindergarten funding discussion are the two-parent families making substantial sacrifices so that one parent can be the primary caretaker and educator of their children before first grade. The proposed $14 million allocated in SB 191 won’t help those families at all, and nothing in New Hampshire tax policy or education funding will mitigate their sacrifices.

If SB 191 were about full-day childcare, it might make more sense. As a tool for benefiting our five-year-olds and strengthening their educational prospects, the bill is $14 million worth of uncertainty. That’s a lot of money to spend on legislation to make some grown-ups feel good. Don’t pass a bill that is sure to lead to full-day, one-size-fits-all, tested-and-benchmarked public kindergarten. Let our five-year-olds play.