Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback usually doesn't surprise. His administration is considered austere by some, but consistent by most everyone.
So when he announced a plan to have the state pay for full-day kindergarten at all 286 school districts starting next year, it was a little out of character. So much so that even usually like-minded members of the Legislature who supported ignoring a court order to pony up an additional $440 million to adequately fund K-12 public schools find themselves free to express doubts about the governor's initiative.
"If he's promising all-day kindergarten, but is not prepared to come up with some money and not prepared to work with the Legislature to figure out a way to get the funding, then it's nothing but political posturing," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, R-Winfield.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, wants to know if the state's reserve fund or other services offered would be affected by implementing the plan.
At $16 million annually, Brownback's kindergarten program would cost $80 million for the proposed five-year trial. At this point, he has not identified where the money would come from but has promised to reveal more details in January.
We understand and sympathize with legislators concerned with fiscal impacts. Money appears to be in short supply in Topeka, and the glide path to eliminating income taxes is squeezing the coffers even more.
What we don't understand is any lawmaker's inability to connect full-day kindergarten with academic performance. Brownback himself noted his motivation for the initiative is a desire to improve reading scores.
But in addition to her financial concerns, Kelley said: "I don't know if I'm sold on all-day kindergarten."
Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, also raised questions about the full-day efficacy.
"There is literature on both sides of it," Abrams said.
We're sure such literature can be found online, right alongside all the conspiracy theories about Common Core standards that Abrams and Kelley voted against. Neither legislator receive high ratings from the Kansas Association of School Boards. Abrams had a 50-percent score; Kelley a 25-percent tally.
Still, they do head up the education committees in their respective chambers. We would recommend they and others with similar doubts should talk with educators about all-day kindergarten. There is a reason it already is in operation in all but approximately 15 districts statewide. And, we would guess, that small minority simply cannot afford to provide the service.
Most academic studies on the subject conclude children in full-day programs tend to do better in school than those in half-day classes. Longer-term effects do indicate the academic gains tend to disappear after the second grade, but that's not an indictment. It means the lower-performing students were brought up to speed. Having fewer children to remediate should be considered a success.
Brownback's overall commitment to public education remains suspect, but the full-day kindergarten notion is worth pursuing. As most districts already have determined ways to pay for the full day, perhaps the governor would consider the $16 million a down payment on the way to $440 million. We can't imagine the Kansas Supreme Court will demand anything less.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry