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Will Gov. Walker put an end to 4K expansion?

Right when plans for a 4-year-old kindergarten program in the St. Croix Central Central School District started falling into place, a statement by Wisconsin State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) has made the school board take another look at the costs and benefits of 4K.

One item on the St. Croix Central Board learning meeting agenda Feb. 7 was plans for the 4K program for fall 2011 and a proposal to no longer fund 4K programs.

The board discussed the risks associated with funding a 4K program, especially in terms of coping if state funding diminished.

The re-evaluation was sparked by Grothman's statement on Dec. 28, 2010 titled "Walker Must Put an End to 4K Expansion."

In his statement to the governor, Grothman said the number of children enrolled in 4K programs has more than tripled in the past 10 years, costing the state $140 million in state tax collections last year.

Grothman told the News that he didn't think Gov. Scott Walker should encourage any additional 4K programs in the state.

Currently, 85 percent of the state's school districts have 4K programs. St. Croix Central is not part of the 85 percent, and if the governor listens to Grothman, SCC won't get adequate funding to support a 4K program.

Grothman claimed that national studies show that 4K is not helpful, saying, "Given the economic harm 4K will continue to have on our state, and lack of credible evidence that 4K programs are beneficial to young children, Gov. Walker should immediately announce he will not provide any more money for 4-year-old kindergarten. If Walker doesn't act soon, more school districts will begin 4K."

Continuing plans

The district needs state funding to have a 4K program.

The governor presents his biennium budget proposal later this month, where he should propose how the state addresses the projected $3 billion budget deficit.

"If (no longer funding 4K) is one of his ideas for cutting expenses, then I think we have to proceed more cautiously. If it's not included, I'm comfortable planning that the funding is going to remain the same," Superintendent David Bradley told the board.

The board agreed to proceed with caution, looking closely at how the 4K program could impact the budget.

"We as a board made a commitment to start this program, we have gone as far as contracting with the providers, the constituency, special session has agreed to it, we haven't spent operational dollars. Everything so far has been planning dollars. So, if we turned this corner, what are we at risk at as a district?" asked John Hueg, board member.

Bradley said no money has been spent on the 4K program yet and no contracts have been signed.

"One of the things we could do is stick a contingency clause in those contract clauses. Saying the contracts are contingent upon, continued state funding at a specified level," Bradley said.

"I think those are what the options are that we need to weigh out. How real a risk is this? And what's the cost risk of this?" Hueg said.

Bradley presented the board with a budget scenario showing that the district would not see a positive financial impact until the third year the 4K program was in operation.

Board member Scott DeGross said the 4K program is a "worthy enough" program.

"I don't think any of us here intended for it to be a cash cow. It's worth while. We have to figure out what level the district is able to fund the program and that we're comfortable in taking a hit for awhile," he said.

"My proposal is to move full speed ahead unless we get significant feedback that this is a major push by the governor," Bradley said.

The board seemed to agree with Bradley about moving ahead with the program.

"Our intent is to move forward with 4K as we planned and are working on, continue with the contracts, we may consider adding language in the contracts that would be contingent upon continued funding at a certain level," Bradley said.

The board is actively trying to get answers on how real a threat Grothman's proposal is.

"Kay Zwald was going to contact Assemblyman John Murtha and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf to see if they know if this proposal by Sen. Grothman is gaining any traction. Howard (Kruschke) is going to check with Dan Rossmiller of WASB and I'm going to check again with John Forrester with the school administrators' organizations," Bradley said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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