DENVER – Colorado lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Gov. Jared Polis’ plan to fund full-day kindergarten Wednesday, inching one of the governor’s signature campaign promises closer to becoming law.
House Bill 1262, sponsored by Durango’s Democratic Rep. Barbara McLachlan, was green-lighted by the House earlier this week when legislators awarded the bill $185 million. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“We’ve seen a proposal like this in education for years and years,” said Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, the bill’s Senate sponsor, on Wednesday. “We have the funds ... we have the will. It is time – it is past time – to fund full-day kindergarten in Colorado.”
Colorado currently funds half-day kindergarten, and around 50,000 kindergarteners – nearly 80 percent – attend full-day programs, which are funded by tuition charges or money from school budgets. About 14,000 students attend half-day programs. While attending kindergarten will remain voluntary, Polis and lawmakers hope the state-funded full-day program will encourage more families to put their kids in full-day kindergarten.
The bill, if it passes, will offer a windfall for Southwest Colorado school districts, which collectively spend nearly $2 million each year to fund full-day kindergarten for students.
In Durango School District 9-R, the region’s largest school district, $1.2 million of general fund money normally set aside for full-day kindergarten will cover most of next year’s salary increases for the district’s teachers.
Montezuma-Cortez School District Superintendent Lori Haukeness has said full state funding for kindergarten would free $287,514 from the district’s general fund, and, like Durango 9-R, Montezuma-Cortez would focus on teacher salaries.