Universal full-day kindergarten in Colorado is on its way to becoming reality after initial Senate approval Thursday.
After a final Senate vote Friday and House approval of minor amendments, the bill will land on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. The Democrat made full-day kindergarten one of his top priorities in his first year as governor.
It’s an initiative that’s failed for several years at the hands of either budget writers or a Republican Senate majority. The $175 million program has the potential to impact tens of thousands of families around the state.
Lawmakers extolled the benefits a full day of learning will have on the state’s kindergarten students.
“Every study everywhere says early money in education is the most important money,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, at a meeting with reporters earlier in the day. “The differences kids show up with in first grade stay with them their entire career.”
Currently, the state only provides funding for a half-day of kindergarten. Some districts have raised local taxes or used federal funds for high-poverty schools to pay for full-day kindergarten. Others charge parents monthly tuition.
Many rural parents can’t afford to drive children 30 minutes or more each way for only a half day of school, some lawmakers noted. And some rural school districts couldn’t afford to offer a full day on their own.
“I want people to know how important this bill is, especially to rural Colorado,” said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican. “We have kids who don’t go to kindergarten at all because they may not be able to afford to get there.
“Half-day kindergarten, quite frankly, is one of the most oppressive education policies we have had for people that are average or below-average income. And quite frankly, that’s mostly in rural Colorado.”
In other districts, rural and urban, districts have subsidized the cost of the additional half day out of their general funds. Those districts will get a new, ongoing revenue stream that frees up money for other uses.
Parents may still send children to kindergarten for half the day if they want. And school districts aren’t required to offer a full day of kindergarten. Some don’t have the space to offer it right away.
“There’s a significant amount of flexibility,” said state Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. “It does not mandate that a parent send a child to full-day kindergarten. The charter schools are brought into this in a way that’s friendly to them.”
As the Senate prepared for a voice vote approving House Bill 1262, Aurora Democrat and co-sponsor Sen. Rhonda Fields exclaimed, “This is a great day in the state of Colorado.”