When it comes to education policy, there are usually two questions voters always ask candidates running for elected office: how much is it going to cost and how are we going to pay for it?
That still holds true in the New Hampshire gubernatorial election as candidates go back and forth on full-day kindergarten and if the state should fund the program for all communities. Steve Marchand, a Democratic candidate, is one of the only candidates touting a plan and how he would fund it.
“Certainly every student should have access to full-day kindergarten and they should go if they want to,” said Steve Marchand, Democratic candidate, in an interview with NH Journal. “Whenever you do early education well, you end up saving immense dollars on the back end of the educational system like healthcare outcomes, future workplace productivity and lower incarceration rates.”
This is a view that the former Portsmouth mayor shares with his Democratic opponents, but the candidates differ on the economics of offering full-day kindergarten. He says the cost of implementing the program would be about $13 million statewide, a figure his opponents and other politicians usually agree on.
Attendance in kindergarten is optional for students, according to New Hampshire education laws. However, school districts are required to offer at least half-day kindergarten, but more and more districts are starting to offer a full-day program.
A bill in the legislature was introduced in February to fund full-day kindergarten, but was killed in the House of Representatives.
“My opponents are not terribly specific on how to pay for it,” Marchand said. “If it’s a proposal without a funding mechanism, it’s just simply an idea and not a plan.”
Marchand’s funding plan for full-day kindergarten is two-fold: raising the Business Profits Tax rate back at 8.5 percent, and legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it.
In the state budget passed last year, the BPT is expected to decrease to 7.9 percent, but Marchand said putting it back to the rate that it has been for several years will help fund full-day kindergarten.
“As someone who sat down with over 100 businesses, this tax cut is not something that came up as a priority for CEOs or other corporate leaders,” Marchand said.
At a Democratic gubernatorial debate hosted by WGIR on August 10, Marchand’s challengers criticized his plan to raise the BPT back to its original rate.
“I don’t think we have uniformly looked at if it’s working or doing what we need to do,” said Mark Connolly, former New Hampshire deputy secretary of state. “I didn’t support decreasing the BPT but I don’t at this point support increasing. You can’t be changing tax policy from year to year and you have to give businesses time to plan.”
Colin Van Ostern, a member of the Executive Council, said he wouldn’t make changes to the BPT either.
“The last budget was a result of compromise and I don’t think going back to unravel that compromise is going to help our state or economy,” he said. “They [businesses] do not deserve to be treated like a yo-yo at the end of a string.”
Marchand also prides himself on being the only candidate talking about legalizing recreational marijuana as a source of revenue for the state. He estimates that on the low-end, the state could receive more than $30 million.
His primary challengers are cautious about legalizing marijuana. They said it should be decriminalized, but the state needs to focus on the opioid crisis first and there should be more discussion about how recreational marijuana would work in the Granite State.
Some Republican candidates also support full-day kindergarten offerings, but it should be up to the towns to decide if they want to offer it.
“Chris [Sununu] supports full-day kindergarten, but believes the decision to implement a full-day program should be left for local school districts to decide,” said David Abrams, spokesman for Sununu’s campaign, in a statement to NH Journal.
Michael Dennehy, a campaign senior advisor for Jeanie Forrester, said she believes in “the local control process” that is already in place.
“We simply do not have the funding for statewide full-day kindergarten at this time,” he said in a statement to NH Journal. “She believes that once the state is able to rebuild the economy and add to our current priorities that it should be on the list for discussion. But that is a long list of new priorities that include many other ‘wants’ that the state cannot afford at this time.”
During the debate earlier this month, Connolly and Van Ostern did not give specifics on how they would fund full-day kindergarten. The education plans on their website also provide little detail about how the state would pay that cost.
“We need to further implement early-childhood education programs across New Hampshire and fully fund universal kindergarten in every community in our state,” says Connolly’s education plan which was released on Monday.
Van Ostern’s plan also only has a quick section on offering full-day kindergarten.
While the number of towns offering full day kindergarten has increased in recent years, the state only provides half the funding as it does for other ages,” the plan states. “As Governor, Colin will work to ensure that every community provides full-day kindergarten, so that our children are better prepared and parents have more opportunities to succeed.”
Save the Children Action Network, an organization supporting early childhood education, endorsed Van Ostern and Forrester on Thursday in their respective primaries.
“Unfortunately, we often do not see candidates talk about it because there is such agreement, but this is a critical issue for the future of the Granite State and the rest of the country,” said Lindsay Hanson, NH state manager of SCAN, in a statement to NH Journal. “There are candidates in the gubernatorial race who are talking about it.”
“He [Van Ostern] understands that in order to build a stronger economy where every child from every town has the opportunity to succeed, New Hampshire must fully fund and ensure access to not only full-day kindergarten in every community, but also expand access to high-quality public pre-K options,” she said. “Forrester has also committed to work hard to achieve expanded access to high-quality early education.”
The Connolly and Van Ostern campaigns did not respond to multiple requests to comment on this story.
“My opponents are not thinking about how they will govern,” Marchand said. “They only think about how they will get elected.”