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Kindergarten mandate must come with funds

March 05, 2002|By BOB MAGINNIS

Students coming out of an all-day kindergarten program at Hagerstown's Marshall Street Center are better readers, have learned how to share and have a longer attention span that students who attended the traditional half-day kindergarten program.

But even if Maryland mandates it, we doubt if the state will give Washington County the $10.8 million it will take to start the program and the $3 million a year needed to run it. We back the county commissioners' decision to oppose the program, at least until new local revenues can be found, or the state can be persuaded to commit money to it.

About $7.8 million of that total would be for additional classrooms, while all but about $100,000 would be recurring expenses that would needed to be funded each year. Assuming the commissioners decided to fund that $3 million cost with a property tax increase, it would require a boost of about 5 cents.

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Given that this is an election year and that the commissioners raised both income and property taxes in 2000, it's not going to happen. Nor do we believe that state lawmakers will burden local governments with an unfunded mandate of that magnitude this year, when they'll need the locals' good will to get through their own re-election contests.

All of that means that the push for all-day kindergarten will be renewed in 2003, along with the persistent proposals to approve slot-machine gambling at the state's horse tracks. We remain skeptical of such proposals, particularly because such revenues are unlikely to be shared as generously as local tip-jar proceeds.

That said, this is not a program that can be put off forever. At a time when fewer students are coming to school ready to learn, all-day kindergarten is the leg up that many children need to be ready for first grade. Next year local governments need to push the state to kick in as much as possible, then dig deep for local dollars.

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