All-Day Kindergarten and Political Misfires


Leave it to the Rhode Island General Assembly to take legislation intended to encourage school districts to switch from part-time to full-day kindergarten and transform it into legislation that creates incentive for the same districts not to do so.

A murmur of excitement is sweeping through the social media of Tiverton, after state representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) announced at a school committee meeting that the House’s budget contains an article that would provide more money for districts to offer full-day kindergarten in the upcoming school year.  Our local Democrat reps, the local Democrat activists are saying, are working hard to save the day with legislation to provide education to our children after an evil local taxpayer group and its far-right mouthpiece cut the money because of their (our) selfish desire not to have the highest tax rate in the area (by far).

That rhetoric is nonsense for a number of reasons.  For one thing, our local representatives have had no visible role in creating or working for this legislation.  It’s been months in the making, and they aren’t even prime sponsors, either in the House or in the Senate.

More importantly, though, the legislation in the budget — Article 6 — doesn’t do what they’re saying it does.

I’ve put a detailed explanation on Tiverton Fact Check.  The basic summary, though, is that the state funding formula transition includes a phase-in of payments for full-day kindergarten.  (Because part-time students only count partially toward the funding formula, districts would get substantially more aid for full-day.)  In the upcoming year, they would get about one-third of the full amount, and in 2016-2017, they would get the total formula increase.  In Tiverton, that would mean the switch to full-day kindergarten would come at almost no cost to the town in the second year.

In January, Sen. Hanna Gallo (D, Cranston) put in legislation to accelerate the full payment to the upcoming year.  On April 8, however, the language of the bill was switched out to match a budget amendment that Governor Raimondo had submitted two days earlier.  Basically, it makes full-day kindergarten mandatory in 2016-2017 (which the governor had already proposed), and tells districts that they’ll get their one-third aid payment in 2015-2016 even if they don’t implement full-day kindergarten that year.

In other words, it creates incentive for districts not to do what the state wants them to do.  I can’t speak for other communities, but in Tiverton, the effect is amplified because the issue is controversial right now.  The school department is claiming it can’t come up with $126,000 in a budget of nearly $30,000,000 (with over a million in reserves), in large part because its estimates in constructing its budget were off by $423,000.  This legislation would actually give the school committee incentive not to go forward with all-day kindergarten, because it would receive the extra state aid anyway, which would help fill its budget hole.

This turn of events is an excellent lesson in Rhode Island government.  Politicians (via their supporters) are getting credit for something that they didn’t do, and what’s being done is pretty much the opposite of what’s being claimed.