Gov. Jared Polis has proposed to fulfill a signature campaign promise by offering $227 million to the state’s school districts to fund full-day kindergarten, a proposal that could bring a budget windfall to school districts in Southwest Colorado.
The funding proposal, announced Tuesday, would provide relief to districts such as Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1, which helps fund full-day kindergarten for 210 students. The state funds half-day kindergarten for all its schools, but the district is among the many others that have opted to fund the other half of the day by pulling their own funds or charging parents tuition.
In Durango, Polis’ proposal would return $1.35 million to District 9-R, which pays full-day kindergarten for 405 students out of its general fund. Montezuma-Cortez uses general fund money to put 210 students into full-day kindergarten. RE-1 pays $641,554.41, said Jeanette Allen, district director of curriculum and instruction.
Polis’ unusual plan to fund kindergarten relies an expected budget surplus from property tax revenues that could change, and shrink, as the year continues. Lawmakers must ultimately pass kindergarten funding into law, although the governor has said he would not accept a solution that diverts funding from other programs. But even those who support the effort, which stands to benefit rural schools in particular, are skeptical that it can be funded.
“I think there is always danger in spending money you don’t have yet,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, who chairs the House Education Committee and expects to sponsor the kindergarten bill. “I can’t tell you that whatever he said is going to be true.”
Polis’ proposed funding would last a year, and during a presentation to the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday, he did not discuss long-term plans for paying for full-day kindergarten.