Full-day kindergarten a bipartisan victory for kids

By Mark K. Shriver

This month was a victory for New Hampshire’s kids when Governor Chris Sununu signed into law Senate Bill 191, a bipartisan bill that provides additional state funding for full-day kindergarten programs.

This legislation is a key step forward in ensuring that more kids in the Granite State will have access to a high-quality kindergarten program and a strong start in life.

The signing was the culmination of years of work by advocates including Save the Children Action Network, our supporters in New Hampshire and coalition partners. We are proud to have worked closely with leaders on both sides of the aisle, from Democratic state Sen. David Watters, who wrote the original bill and has worked tirelessly for children throughout his career, to Gov. Sununu, who helped set a pro-kindergarten agenda back in February, to achieve this result for kids.

Despite SCAN’s endorsement of the governor’s opponent in last year’s election, I was thrilled to meet with him earlier this year and discuss an issue we’re both passionate about – ensuring all kids have an equal opportunity to succeed. It was refreshing to work with a governor who put party aside to make sure New Hampshire’s kids had access to full-day kindergarten.

This is also an issue supported at the local level. In March of this year, Nashua’s Board of Education approved a budget that includes funding for full-day kindergarten programs at all of the city’s schools. Currently, full-day kindergarten is offered at six of the city’s 12 elementary schools.

Extensive studies have shown the positive effects of investing in early childhood education. By age 5, a child’s brain is nearly completely developed, yet until now, the State of New Hampshire paid only 50 percent of the cost to adequately educate that kindergarten student.

While SB-191 is not a mandate and does not force any family to send their kids to a full-day program, it provides an opportunity for students to receive more time with teachers in a quality learning environment, which can result in greater learning gains.

Further, studies show that students who attend full-day kindergarten enter first grade better prepared to learn, are more likely to graduate high school and are less likely to engage in crime – saving the state money in the long run. The type of environment and the quality of interaction to which children are exposed in the first five years of life greatly influence the outcomes of their adult lives.

Full-day kindergarten is also a smart business decision. Full-day kindergarten will help attract and retain young families to New Hampshire. In fact, a recent report from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman shows the rate of return on investments in early childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child, per year due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. That’s why the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association also supported this change.

There is much more work to do, but I am encouraged by the passage of SB-191 – a first step in creating a better future for New Hampshire’s kids. SCAN will continue to push for full adequacy funding for kindergarten, and increased access to high-quality early education in New Hampshire and across the country.

Mark K. Shriver is president of Save the Children Action Network.