Politics and kindergarten

June 10, 2003

The idea of full-day kindergarten sparked a controversy in Washington County earlier this year when Commissioner John Munson called it a "full-time baby-sitting service." Now it looks as if the program might be derailed by the state's money woes.

Lawmakers must decide how to solve those problems in the 2004 session, or risk costing local systems money on planning, construction and program development.

Maryland is due to implement full-day kindergarten by the 2007-2008 school year, with funding to come from a $1.3 billion educational assistance bill that the legislature said will be funded only if the state can afford it.

This sounds a lot like the father who promised his child a pony "as soon as Daddy hits the lottery." Lawmakers did it that way because they wanted to be seen as pro-education without making any potentially dangerous pre-election decisions about how to fund the program.


They ought to make a decision in the upcoming session to either raise taxes, slash programs or legalize slot machines. If lawmakers don't and leave local officials guessing about what might be funded and what might not, there are two possibilities.

Local districts could spend a great deal of money planning for the program and classrooms to house it, only to see the cash wasted if the state doesn't come through with its share.

Or the locals districts, fearing that the state won't deliver, may fail to adequately plan. If that's what happens, then some districts will have to cobble together a program at the last minute.

Neither would be a satisfactory way of planning such an important program. The legislature and Gov. Robert Ehrlich must not postpone this decision because of partisan bickering.

Don't like the governor's slots proposal? Then find a way to cut the budget or raise taxes. Don't like new taxes? Then find a way to make slots palatable to those who oppose them. Full-day kindergarten is an important tool needed to prepare children from poor families to succeed in school, too important to let it fail because of political wrangling.

The Herald-Mail Articles