MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA The governor’s plan for school funding and allday kindergarten hit a House committee Monday where the chairman says it could undergo some big changes. The $138 million proposal includes the money for some of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s education goals: inflationary increases for schools, student loan forgiveness for teachers and a program to fund school upkeep and construction. But it’s the plan for all-day kindergarten that is drawing the ire of some conservatives. Constitutional Party Rep. Rick Jore of Ronan, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he doesn’t like the initiative and has been getting a lot of e-mails opposed to the idea. The committee took testimony on the measure Monday, and could vote on it by the end of the week, Jore said. “If it gets out of here with allday kindergarten, it’s going to probably be by just one vote (margin),” Jore said of his 15- member panel. Democrats supportive of Schweitzer’s plan only hold six seats on the education committee. The governor argues that allday kindergarten, which is optional for school districts and parents, has proven to be a good place to put education money. Studies show that test scores of children who have attended full-day kindergarten rise throughout the rest of the child’s school years. “Investing early is where we need to go,” Jan Lombardi, the governor’s education adviser, told the committee. “The governor’s education bill is really taking a long-term view of what we need.” Education interests lined up in support of the measure. Opponents to the bill also focused on the all-day kindergarten provision, saying it won’t really be optional and arguing it doesn’t really help children in the long run. Jore said the big increase in education spending could be a sticking point for conservatives as well. The measure easily cleared the Senate in January, but has been waiting for a House hearing. The education plan is one of Schweitzer’s primary goals this session. The Senate passed a separate bill that duplicated the all-day kindergarten portion of Schweitzer’s bill, hoping that at least one of them could clear the GOP-controlled House. Lawmakers are still working under the shadow of a court ruling that declared Montana’s school funding system unconstitutional. A state judge will consider whether to hold a hearing on the 2007 Legislature’s progress on the issue after the session ends in April. The bill is Senate Bill 152.