November 30, 2004
A special legislative panel has recommended statewide funding for voluntary fullday kindergarten by July 2010, despite objections from some Republicans that the state doesn’t have enough money to pay for the expansion.
A majority of the panel endorsed on Monday a proposal written by three educators to gradually phase in additional funding over five years. The three were appointed to the panel by Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has been promoting statewide funding since January.
This year, the Legislature authorized $25 million to fund full-day kindergarten in schools with the highest number of low-income students. The cost to reach all eligible children, an estimated 70,000, has been projected at more than $200 million. The legislative panel also recommended the state pick up construction costs for additional classrooms, estimated at nearly $72 million.
The three educators said children should have the earliest opportunity to start formal instruction, at the state’s expense, because of the burdens that Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards will create when the exam becomes a graduation test starting in 2006.
"It’s not logical to expect our students to bear the brunt of high-stakes testing without us providing them more opportunity to prepare," said David Braswell, a governing board member for the Glendale Union High School District and a former school superintendent. "Kindergarten just gives them an extra year that the research says, if implemented correctly, will result in a better prepared student."
The state currently funds half-day kindergarten for all school districts. Most East Valley districts already offer the full-day version, raising local property taxes and, in some cases, assessing parents a special tuition to help defray the expense.
Conservative Republicans were outnumbered at Monday’s panel meeting, but
they will pick up additional legislative seats next year and have been positioning themselves to oppose an immediate expansion of state funding.
Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, arranged for legislative budget staff to tell the panel how the Legislature’s discretion over expenditures continues to shrink because of voterapproved funding formulas and court decisions. Even though tax revenue has risen rapidly in the last year, ongoing expenses still are expected to outpace them by $126 million to $376 million, according to projections.
"The point is we don’t have the money to cover the stuff we already have in place," said Burns, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.