DENVER – Durango school officials told state lawmakers on Monday that the state should fund full-day kindergarten, which would ease a burden on the district.
For 20 years, Durango School District 9-R has paid for full-day kindergarten, making it one of the few districts in the state to do so. Durango pioneered the effort.
The cost is about $1.4 million per year, requiring the district to cut other areas, including gifted and talented programs, as well as raises for teachers.
The state covers half-day kindergarten programs, which is a little more than 50 percent of the full-day share.
“We have parents from all walks of life who stand strongly behind a full-day program and have led our district to prioritize the service within our already-stretched budget,” explained Superintendent Dan Snowberger, who offered his comments to lawmakers in Denver via live video stream from Fort Lewis College.
The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday delayed a vote on Senate Bill 23, which would gradually increase state funding for full-day kindergarten until it is fully funded in the fiscal year beginning in 2021. Voters would have to allow the state to keep taxpayer refunds to pay the bill.
Refunds are expected as a result of a surplus in the state budget. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, said the average taxpayer would forego a refund of about $20.
But GOP lawmakers raised concerns with prioritizing full-day kindergarten when the state faces an $855 million education funding shortfall, known as the “negative factor.”
“We’ve got to honor our first commitments and then talk about new commitments,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
Democrats attempted to back Republicans into a corner by proposing an amendment that would first direct funding to buy down the negative factor before funding full-day kindergarten. Facing the amendment, Republicans delayed the vote.
“Far too often are the stories ... where our folks, middle-class families, are on the hook for that money ...” Kerr said, pointing to the high cost of sending children to full-day programs. “I’m under no illusion that this will be inexpensive. It’s not small, but the investment in our kids is worth it.”
A range of stakeholders spoke in favor of the legislation, including teachers, administrators and parents. No one testified against the bill.
“I am a product of half-day kindergarten, and if that doesn’t sway you into action,” joked Snowberger, who played an instrumental role last year as lawmakers debated student-testing reform.
“Living in a mountain town, it is an expensive cost of living, so even our families who aren’t from poverty ... find themselves stretched financially,” Snowberger said.
Gina Preszler, a 20-year kindergarten teacher for the Durango district, acknowledged that there are several funding issues to address in terms of students. But she said SB 23 would be a positive step.
“We can’t fix all of that, but we can give them the one instructional resource of time,” Preszler said. “Full-day kindergarten supports children who are at risk of school failure; it provides a way to close the achievement gap.”