BOSTON — More than $18 million has been slashed from a state program to expand full-day kindergarten, which could put a new strain on school districts’ already cash-strapped coffers.
House and Senate lawmakers trimmed $750 million from the $39.1 billion state budget, which was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker last week.
If unchanged, the cuts essentially gut funding for a full-day kindergarten program, forcing communities that depend on the money to trim their own budgets or otherwise make up the costs.
School administrators are lobbying to restore the funding.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said the cuts will hurt, especially because many school districts have been expecting that money to cover full-time kindergarten costs for the coming year.
“Some districts approved their budgets with the expectation of continued funding, and they’ve been caught flat-footed by the cuts,” he said. “So now they’re going to have to make up the difference, either through budget reductions or elimination of programs.”
Union leaders said they, too, are urging Baker to restore the money.
“To absorb this cut, many of the affected districts are going to have to lay off kindergarten staff, revert back to half-day programs, or cut funding from other grades to keep their full-day kindergartens going. All of those choices are bad,” said Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
“Rather than cutting funds for kindergarten, the state should be expanding funding for both preschool and kindergarten,” she added.
Governor’s decision due
Lawmakers cut the state’s budget to offset a shortfall attributed to stock market instability and other factors for the fiscal year that started last Friday.
Baker, a Republican, has until Monday to review the budget and make any vetoes in the spending package.
The grant helps some communities subsidize the cost of full-day kindergarten. Others districts subsidize full-day kindergarten themselves, or charge tuition to families with children in the programs.
Massachusetts school districts are required to offer a free kindergarten program with at least 425 hours of learning time a year, the equivalent of about 2 1/2 hours per day.
Most districts expand upon that. At least 87 percent of the state’s kindergartners are now enrolled in full-day programs, up from 29 percent in 2000.
Full-day kindergarten grant amounts aren’t yet available for the coming year, but most school districts on the North Shore received funding through the program last year. Top grant recipients locally included Lynn, $473,347; Peabody, $197,760; Salem, $166,170; and Danvers, $109,510. Gloucester received $98,260.
“This funding is critical for the communities that depend on it,” said state Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, a member of the powerful House Way and Means Committee, who opposes the cuts. “These cuts are devastating and will have a major impact on school budgets.”
Beverly, Marblehead and Newburyport are among 65 districts statewide that charge tuition ranging from $995 to $4,650 a year for full-day kindergarten, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Grants for expanding kindergarten programs have been threatened in past budget cycles. Funding for the program has dwindled from a high of more than $33 million in 2009 to $18.5 million in the year that just ended.
Baker administration officials have noted the money was intended to help districts switch to full-day kindergarten. But many districts now depend on the money, and the state is basically subsidizing them.
The administration points out that Chapter 70 funding, which covers a range of education costs, was increased by $116 million in the new budget to $4.6 billion.
Baker proposed cutting $17.6 million from the kindergarten grants in the previous budget, but lawmakers ultimately restored the funding.
“At the time, they made it clear that funding for this program wasn’t going to be forever,” Scott said. “But the expectation among school districts was that they were going to gradually decrease the funding over several budget cycles, not just wipe it out.”
Christian Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the Times and its sister newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.
2015 KINDERGARTEN GRANTS
Manchester Essex: $17,590
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education