- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback took a field trip Thursday to a suburban school as he kicked off a campaign to build support for his plan to increase state funding of all-day kindergarten.

The Republican dined with students at Roesland Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission school district, chatting to them about their favorite subjects and sports teams, before meeting with teachers, students and parents. Brownback wants to increase state funding for all-day kindergarten starting in the next budget year, providing an extra $16 million each year over five years for the state’s 286 school districts.

The governor said Kansas can afford to spend the money and should, so it can improve early learning.

“We’ve needed to do this for some period of time,” he said. “This is a very targeted proposal. This is sort of an obvious hole” in education spending.

Currently, Shawnee Mission district parents pay $300 per month for their children to attend all-day kindergarten. It’s free for a half-day. Families that meet federal poverty guidelines for reduced-priced lunches pay $90 a month for all-day kindergarten.

Overall, parents pay nearly $2 million in extra fees for all-day kindergarten, with the district kicking in another $1.1 million, said Superintendent Jim Hinson.

“It’s what our community wants. It’s what our parents want. Our kids need it,” he said. “This is not about politics.”

The school district was chosen for the visit because of its efforts to provide all-day kindergarten since 2007, and because it would stand to benefit from any additional state support.

Critics are wary that Kansas can sustain the investment financially, while others have questioned if the benefits outweigh the costs. House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, sent Brownback’s plan to a special study committee to review.

Kellie Gillespie, president of the PTA at Roesland Elementary and a mother of three, asked Brownback where the money would come from, noting that schools and teachers have been asked “to do more with less” in recent years.

“I’m glad he met with our teachers and glad he met our students. All-day kindergarten would be wonderful, but I’m very murky on how it would be funded,” Gillespie said. “I don’t have a lot of faith that this is going to happen.”

She said her family was unable to afford all-day kindergarten on a single income, but able to provide other preschool opportunities for her children.

“It doesn’t make sense for our family. There are others who would benefit who can’t afford it,” she said.

Julie Murray, also a mother of three, had a son in all-day kindergarten last year and paid the $2,700 in fees, plus additional money for before and afterschool care. Her family has two incomes, but she said any help from the state would benefit parents. She supports the practice as a way to improve early learning.

“Kids are ready to go academically and socially,” Murray said. “I think the half-day model is outdated.”

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