Brownback keeps sights on all-day kindergarten

FILE - Governor Sam Brownback delivers the State of the State address on January 15, 2014. (AP Photo)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback remains determined to establish all-day kindergarten in Kansas, despite the apparent hesitancy among legislators to get on board as the session reaches the halfway mark.

The Republican governor rolled out his proposal before Christmas and reinforced his idea when he addressed legislators during the annual State of the State address in January.

On Friday, Brownback said he still believes in the proposal, which would increase spending for public schools by $16 million in each of the next five years, as a means toward improving fourth-grade reading scores.

“What I’ve tried to do in education is get resources into things,” Brownback said. “I think it’s a better approach to be able to get the Legislature to support it instead of just putting a bunch of money in the pool.”

But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Brownback’s presumed Democratic challenger in November, questioned why it wasn’t a priority when the governor took office in 2011.

“There are a lot of people who are questioning his commitment to all-day kindergarten and see it as an election year publicity stunt,” said Davis, of Lawrence.

Brownback said improving reading scores has been on his agenda since the 2010 campaign, but the state didn’t have the money to invest.

“We struggled financially the first couple of years of this administration. We were broke,” he said. “I think it makes sense and the way we should be going in the future that we should be funding something.”

The proposal has been assigned to legislative committees to weigh the benefits of increasing the state’s financial commitment to schools and whether there is evidence that any academic gains made by longer kindergarten attendance are sustained by students.

Legislators so far have held numerous hearings on other policy issues including parental consent for sex education courses, expanding charter school laws and whether Kansas should back out of the State Board of Education’s decision in 2010 to implement Common Core Standards for math and reading.

House Education Committee members attempted a bill that would make it state law for parents to give their consent to students receiving sex education instruction. The bill was amended to change it from an opt-in proposal to an opt-out, meaning students would receive the instructions unless parents otherwise said no.

The committee also heard from more than 70 witnesses in February on the merits of Common Core. Opponents of the standards said they were weak and would cede too much authority to the federal government, while supporters argue the standards are rigorous and raise the bar for teachers and students.

Neither bill has had enough support to reach the full House for debate but they were expected to be revisited in the coming weeks.

Brownback won’t weigh in on any of the proposals, but he would prefer that legislators focus on his kindergarten plan, as well as boost funding for higher education and go home.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and a teacher, said the Senate Education Committee hadn’t talked much about Common Core but has discussed charter schools. The bill would establish additional governmental entities that could authorize charter schools to operate, something that currently is the responsibility of the State Board of Education.

“I don’t think the votes are there,” he said. “There are charter schools, perhaps not as many as the proponents think there should be.”

Hensley said the concern has been what the impact would be on public schools if more charter schools were established.

“Kansas has had a long tradition of what we commonly call local control. Particularly among rural legislators, they realize we have to do everything to support the schools that we’ve got as opposed to allowing for greater competition,” Hensley said.

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