Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Flexibility for kindergarten funding squashed -- for now

Not surprisingly, the Montana Senate endorsed full-day kindergarten, and the bill is now on to the House.

Two valid concerns were raised in the course of the Senate debate, ones which the House should be as firm in addressing, if not firmer.

First, Sen. Roy Brown, R-Billings, said that the bill would raise property taxes for many, as districts raise money for the matching funds required of districts. On a similar note, it was pointed out by Republicans that poorer districts might not be able to afford it at all, bringing inequity into the system.

Second, Dan McGee, R-Laurel, proposed that districts have the freedom to spend the money on other early education programs other than full-day kindergarten.

These are both valid concerns, and there are common-sense solutions that can be insisted on by the House -- and presented in a positive fashion, pre-empting the inevitable accusations by Democrats that Republicans hate children (which is probably why Republicans tend to have more children than Democrats -- more kids around to hate and ignore.)

Common sense solution: Make the funds outright grants to the districts, rather than matching funds. That way, every district is treated the same.

Common sense corollary: Allow districts to spend the money any way they like -- raises in teacher salaries, improvements on aging facilities, full-day kindergarten, or any program of choice that local communities think is the most acute need.

Simple. Fair. More money for every school district in the state.