Thursday, March 03, 2005

More Mush From The Wimps

There are only about a dozen school districts in the United States that do not provide public kindergarten. All of them are in New Hampshire. Curiously, several of the districts are not impoverished mill towns, but leafy, middle-class suburbs.

For years, fitful efforts have been made to expand kindergarten statewide; former Gov. Shaheen managed to greatly increase the number of districts providing kindergarten, an achievement for which she deserves considerable praise. Unfortunately, the political culture of New Hampshire is such that the final hurdles may be the highest.

The Concord Monitor reports that the state Board of Education is backing away fom its policy of support for universal kindergarten. Now, doing the wrong thing is nothing new in the halls of NH government, but what is disturbing about this development is the Board's rationale.

Board member David Ruedig didn't mention substantive problems with universal kindergarten; he didn't cite a study analyzing the cost-effectiveness of such programs; he didn't even mention the usual problem, funding. No, he had a new excuse.

JLCAR.

JLCAR (pronounced "JELL-car") is the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. JLCAR is the quintessential inside-baseball panel. The committee's function is to serve provide oversight over administrative rulemaking by state agencies, covering areas ranging from education to the sale of Jack Daniels at the state-owned liquor stores.

Evidently, the old-line conservatives on JLCAR are fussing about the Board's policy, claiming that it amounts to a backdoor attempt to circumvent the legislative process. The fingerprints of Sen. Bob Clegg, the senate majority leader and determined foe of all that is in the state's best interest, are all over this mess.

It should be noted that it is the refusal of characters like Clegg to support a workable school funding system that creates the lion's share of the problem for local districts that are attempting to get kindergarten off the ground. Perhaps this is inadvertent; more likely, it is a state level version of Grover Norquist's cryptolibertarian "drown the baby" campaign to eliminate any useful role for government.

With a few exceptions, the Board members are rolling over and backing off from support for universal kindergarten. Score this one a victory for the "don't just do something, stand there" crowd that still holds too much influence in Concord.