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N.H. Kindergarten Accord Includes Construction Funds

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The promise of new classroom-construction funding in New Hampshire is prompting school officials across the state to consider adding kindergarten programs.

"That's going to be the key to get a lot of our districts over the hump," said Paul Krohne, the director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, referring to the legislature's plans to pay 75 percent of the building costs in districts that need school additions or renovations to launch or expand kindergarten programs.

The compromise bill, agreed upon by a House and Senate conference committee June 5, would also boost state aid for kindergarten from $500 to $750 per child and add $20 million to the foundation-aid formula for schools over the next two years, raising fiscal 1998 aid to $65 million and fiscal 1999 aid to $66 million.

But the bill remained in limbo last week because of end-of-session procedural problems and last-minute disputes over budget issues. Legislators hoped to work out their differences and send the bill on to the governor soon.

Six districts have already voted to add kindergarten programs this fall, meaning 109 of the state's 154 school systems will offer kindergarten.

And Helen Schotanus, a state curriculum adviser for primary education, said several more are considering the move. "Districts that have never talked about public kindergarten before are now talking about it," she said.

Statewide, about half of all 5-year-olds attend public kindergarten. Another 35 percent go to private programs, leaving 15 percent with no kindergarten experience when they enter 1st grade.

The $750-per-child allocation would cover only about a third of the cost of a half-day kindergarten program, which is at least $2,000. But the bill is still "the message that we were looking for," Ms. Krohne said.

While satisfied with the kindergarten plan, Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said last week that she will let the budget bill pass into law without her signature because of other provisions she doesn't like, namely tuition increases at state colleges and universities and cuts in health and human services programs.

--LINDA JACOBSON ljacobs@epe.org

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