Full-day kindergarten may now become a reality in Colorado.
The bill I am running with Rep. Jim Wilson and Sen. Jeff Bridges fulfills a promise Colorado made to voters more than 10 years ago, allowing each child in the state to attend kindergarten by adding a little bit more to the budget every year. Our promise hit a wall in 2008 with the financial crisis and never picked up again.
And now the state pays only .58 percent of a child’s full-day kindergarten promise.
Last week, the Joint Budget Committee set aside $185 million to fully fund kindergarten students. It is an investment in our future.
School districts throughout the state addressed the dilemma of partial state funding in different ways. Some districts, mostly rural, took money from other areas and paid for the remaining .42 percent. For those schools, once the state funding begins in the fall, they will keep the percentage they were paying, shifting it to other needs.
Many districts will see a windfall of thousands of dollars. In District 59, preliminary calculations predict the following additional funding: Archuleta, $400,000; Bayfield, $379,000; Durango, $1.36 million; Gunnison, $432,000; Hinsdale, $44,000; Ignacio, $206,000; Ouray, $55,000; Ridgway, $71,000; and Silverton, $7,000.
Other school districts offered full-day kindergarten but charged parents for the remainder. Fees vary, ranging from a couple hundred to several hundred dollars every month. In these areas, hardworking parents will get a refund of sorts and can spend or invest that money elsewhere.
And still other districts offered only half-day kindergarten. Those districts may now offer more kindergarten classes, and more parents will have the opportunity to enroll their children in early childhood education.
Colorado’s full-day kindergarten will still be optional for both parents and school districts; this bill adequately funds parents’ educational choices. As Gov. Jared Polis says, this is a funded un-mandate.
Colorado has had a strong economy these past few years. As the local share of school funding has increased slightly across the state, we have more funds to dedicate to fulfilling the promise of full-day kindergarten. The state will also most likely be paying down the Budget Stabilization Factor by $77 million this year.
The $185 million set aside for House Bill 19-1262 will be placed in the state School Finance Formula, where all other educational funding is kept. As is usual, if an economic downturn occurs, districts may have to dip into their reserves, but kindergarten will not be the first thing cut; it will be treated as any other grade in school. Colorado will now become a K through 12 state, instead of a half-K through 12 state.
Many studies have proven that early childhood education is an important building block for children. Kindergarten creates a supportive transition between home and early learning, a child’s first introduction to a formal education. The curriculum is designed to get students ready to learn, understand, listen and become productive members of society.
Benefits include improved academic performance, more self-confidence, better social skills, a narrowed achievement gap and a higher graduation rate.
It is a place where developmental disabilities can be recognized early, leading to the help and guidance that will save districts thousands of dollars in the future.
Full funding also opens up slots in the Early Childhood At Risk Enhancements Program. The money for ECARE was originally used to help parents of at-risk students afford preschool, but when the need presented itself in 2008, legislation allowed districts to use the funds for half-day kindergarten. Once this legislation goes through, that funding can no longer be used for kindergarten, opening up more than 5,000 new full- or half-day slots for preschool.
Offering full-day kindergarten fulfills a promise made to Coloradans years ago. By investing this money now, we will see a more educated workforce, families with more income in their budgets, more money for schools and a strong education system that is attractive to business.
It’s a positive step forward for Colorado.
Barbara McLachlan represents State House District 59. Reach her at email@example.com.