Businesses on board: Chamber coalition shows solidarity for full-day kindergarten

Chambers of Commerce say full-day kindergarten would serve all students well, and improve the economic outlook of NH.

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Michael Skelton, right, President of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, reinforces the city’s support for funding of full-time kindergarten, flanked by Mayor Ted Gatsas, center, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, to his right, and Nashua Chamber president Terry Hatch.

MANCHESTER, NH – A bi-partisan coalition of business and community leaders gathered Tuesday morning for a brief but focused news conference in support of the proposal to expand full-day kindergarten in New Hampshire.

Chamber President and CEO Michael Skelton spoke on behalf of six chambers – Greater Manchester, Greater Derry/Londonderry, Dover, Greater Keene, Nashua and Salem, which he noted represents thousands of companies andtens of thousands of employees, showing how broad the coalition of support is for the initiative.

“Workforce development education is a strategic goal that all business organizations share,” Skelton said. “In our view, expanding full-day kindergarten is one of the most important policy steps we can take to address our workforce and education needs right now. Full-day kindergarten is a family-friendly public policy that will help our efforts to attract and retain young families, which is important to supporting our state’s workforce. I can say without reservation that every day one of the issues we hear from our business members is workforce, workforce, workforce – where are our employees of tomorrow coming from?”

Full-day kindergarten also has “proven positive impacts” on education, saidMayor Ted Gatsas, a point he reinforced based on the city’s move to full-day kindergarten three years ago.

“You can see a difference as you walk through the schools, talking to the children that are in the third grade versus the children who are in the second grade. Kindergarten has helped them get ready for school; they’re prepared to sit down and take every educational opportunity seriously, and move forward,” Gatsas said.

He urged the House to move the bill forward, and said he hoped that the Senate concurs with whatever changes are made to the bill so that full-day kindergarten can be enacted across the state.

Senate Bill 191 recently was recommended by the House Education Committee by a 15-4 vote, and goes before the full House of Representatives this week for a vote. The bill, if approved, would providepublic schools across the state with an additional$14,537,978 in “adequate education grants” for fiscal year 2018.

Coalition of NH Chamber presidents and business leaders gathered at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce office.

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said kindergarten is a key in growing communities based on the desire of families to live and work in districts where full-day kindergarten is an option.

“In trying to grow our economy and trying to attract new businesses and expand businesses that are here, of the problems we have are the words ‘aging state.’ We need to attract and retain young families and young people – people who are qualified to fill the jobs which we know exist. Now, if you talk to the business community, if you talk to Realtors, they all say one of the questions they most commonly get from people who are thinking about staying or relocating is ‘what’s the story with the schools?’ and ‘Do you have full-day kindergarten?’ And if the answers to those questions, especially that second one, is ‘no, we don’t,’ it seems we’re out of step with educational quality and out of step with the rest of the United States,” Donchess said.

Although 75 percent of New Hampshire students have the option of full-day kindergarten, Nashua is among those that do not.

“When I was mayor 30 years ago, we went to kindergarten in Nashua, before it was state mandated. This fall I expect we’ll be moving to full-day kindergarten, but we need to get state support, and make a strong statement that for the benefit of our state we need to establish this as a statewide policy,” Donchess said.

He also noted there is strong evidence that kids who have access to full-day kindergarten have more success, higher GPAs, lower drop-out rates and, on average, achieve a “much better educational result.”

“I know from talking to teachers there are a lot of social problems now – we have opioid addiction and other things. A lot of kids come to school unprepared to work. They’ve not been read to, sometimes they don’t have enough to eat. This is a way to make sure each child is prepared to enter first grade– not only for our economic well-being, but for the future of each child we have, we need full-day kindergarten.”

Although Gov. Chris Sununu is all-in for full-day kindergarten, calling it “absolutely necessary,” there is opposition.

Among them, thenon-profit Live Free or Die Alliance, polled about 200 of itsFacebook followers in January, and reported that 60 percent of respondents did not support full-day kindergarten, citing an over-extended educational system, questionable benefits of all-day kindergarten, and the notion that if parents want full-day kindergarten, they should pay for it and not create a new tax burden for all.

Derry/Londonderry Chamber President Will Stewart said the demand for state-funded full-day kindergarten in Derry and Londonderry is beginning to “percolate up” in districts he represents, where excellenthigh schools are a draw. Derry ishome to Pinkerton Academy and Londonderry High School, both often recognized asacademic and extracurricular stand outs. Currently Londonderry offers half-day kindergarten, and Derry parentscan pay for full-day kindergarten at a cost of $3,600 annually.

“If you use a business analogy, students are the product the educational systemproduces, and when you have a better product, you attract better businesses. In today’s workforce, the workforce demands are growing more every day, and businesses need more skills to do more jobs – and not just high-tech.Manufacturing and other sectors requirea higher degree of sophistication and skill base than in previous generations,” Stewart said.

Tracy Hatch, President of the Greater Nashua Chamber, underscored the state’s much-touted initiative to retain young people in her remarks.

“Our chamber supports full-day kindergarten for New Hampshire. At a time when we face shortages of skilled workers, and are working to attract young people and their families to our state, we need to be aware of and responsive to what they’re looking for – a place to raise their families where education is valued and supported,” Hatch said.

Also in attendance were Manchester School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and School Board Vice Chairman Art Beaudry.

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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!