- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House budget committee on Tuesday restored $16 million for Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to fund all-day kindergarten, keeping the money in place while a separate committee reviews the merits of the plan.

The recommendation by the House Appropriations Committee reverses a decision made by a working group to strip the funding until a decision is made whether to move forward with Brownback’s proposal. The working group will meet Thursday to continue its review of the proposal.

Rep. Jerry Lunn, chairman of the working group, said restoring the funding recommendation doesn’t commit legislators to funding the plan, but keeps the issue in play until a recommendation can be made in the coming weeks.

“It’s a lot of money that requires serious consideration,” said Lunn, an Overland Park Republican.

The full committee endorsed the overall budget for the Department of Education, which would spend more than $3 billion in the next fiscal year on public schools. Legislators approved most of the spending last session. The committee’s action reflects minor changes in spending, including $1.1 million to develop new standardized tests.

Brownback made full funding for all-day kindergarten a priority this legislative session, arguing that it is a means for improving student reading scores and helping prepare all students for success in the early grades. Currently the state pays for only half-day kindergarten classes in the 286 school districts, but nearly all districts offer all-day classes by either using existing funds or charging parents a fee to offset the cost.

The governor would fully fund all-day programs over five years, increasing the state support by $16 million in each of the next five years. Critics of the plan have questioned whether the state can afford the extra expense and whether the benefits of all-day programs justify the investment.

“Not all all-day kindergartens are equal,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican. “I’ve heard both sides.”

He said he was interested in hearing more from the working group about whether all-day kindergarten is the best way to help students at risk of academic failure or if there are other ways to target funding.