Three months after Sen. John Huppenthal testified against full-day kindergarten at the state Legislature, he now plans to champion the cause.
The Chandler Republican — who is facing a recall attempt — said he will propose a strikeeverything amendment in the state House on Wednesday to fund an expansion of fullday kindergarten.
It’s too late to introduce new legislation, so Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, will sponsor the amendment to another education bill that had been sponsored by Huppenthal and is now in the House.
Huppenthal said he will testify in support of full-day kindergarten, asking the House Committee on K-12 Education to fund full-day programs for all schools where at least 80 percent of students are poor.
Political opponents who have begun collecting signatures to recall Huppenthal question his change of heart.
"I think he recognizes the pressure," said Steve Muratore, a member of the Recall Huppenthal Committee. "I don’t expect him to acknowledge no matter how the question is put to him, that our effort has had any influence over how he goes about his business."
Huppenthal insists his original viewpoint has not changed: Research, he maintains, shows that full-day kindergarten isn’t effective unless taught properly.
He said his amendment will include a provision to ensure full-day kindergarten instruction uses proven practices.
"We will have them review the best studies on teaching kids to read and on kindergarten practices," Huppenthal said. "There are some things a lot of educators, and people such as you and myself, have never been aware of."
For example, he said, children need to develop "phonemic awareness" — knowing the sounds letters make — a skill that prepares them for phonics, when they begin to sound out words, read and write.
Educators, though, say they alre ady teach phonemic awareness.
"My sense is there are legislators that believe we are ‘babysitting’ and that we are doing dress-up and housekeeping and that kind of thing," said Sandra Kuhn, principal of Mesa’s Lowell Elementary School, one of four East Valley schools now receiving state funding for full-day kindergarten. "I would hope they would look at the data we have and that they would spend some time in full-day kindergarten rooms."
Gov. Janet Napolitano has been pushing lawmakers to fund full-day kindergarten in all schools.
Last week, Huppenthal attended a forum Napolitano hosted for parents in the Kyrene Elementary School District to discuss education issues, including funding.
Kyrene is where the recall effort against Huppenthal began. Huppenthal represents the northwest side of Chandler, south Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills.
The recall committee holds Huppenthal responsible for a funding shortfall in public schools that contributed to the Kyrene board’s decision to cut funding to the arts.
At last week’s forum with the governor, Huppenthal talked to constituents just yards from his opponents, as they collected signatures to oust him from office.
The state now funds fullday classes at all schools that have at least 90 percent of families living within federal poverty limits. The expansion would bring that bar down to 80 percent.
Anderson said the amendment he and Huppenthal support would fund a full day of kindergarten on new terms: Schools would need to offer half-day programs for parents wanting to opt out, and the bill would also allow businesses to claim tax credits if they donate toward private school tuition.
"We’re trying to figure out how to work together with the governor," Anderson said.