The Colorado State Board of Education has put its support behind a proposal for the state to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten.
Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on this plan, and earlier this week, he announced that he could pay for it without cutting other programs because local property taxes are bringing in more revenue, freeing up money at the state level.
In a news release, the State Board of Education, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, said it had adopted a resolution in support of that plan.
“We know that high-quality kindergarten programs can help us close opportunity and achievement gaps and ensure that all students have a strong foundation for success throughout their school years,” board chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat, said in the release.
Vice Chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said leveraging the strong economy to pay for kindergarten is the right approach.
“The proposal doesn’t create a new mandate for districts or for parents, but it enables districts to offer free, full-day kindergarten for all, and it will help ensure all students are on the path to success,” Durham said.
Right now, about 50,000 students attend full-day programs and another 13,000 attend half-day programs. Many districts charge tuition for the extra half-day – the governor’s office estimates at least 30,000 families pay hundreds of dollars a month, though the state education department doesn’t track this – while others use a combination of federal money for high-poverty schools, state funds to support early literacy, dedicated local taxes and their own operating funds to cover the cost.
When Polis announced the plan, key Democratic lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee raised concerns about using so much additional revenue for kindergarten when there are other needs, particularly transportation. Polis estimates paying for kindergarten will cost an additional $227 million a year, plus a one-time $25 million expenditure for implementation costs such as curriculum and supplies.
“The governor’s budget doesn’t really touch on transportation, for example,” Joint Budget Committee Chairman Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City, told The Denver Post. “And that’s something we’ve heard loud and clear from our constituents – that they are tired of sitting in traffic. They want better infrastructure.”
But on Wednesday, when Polis formally presented his budget requests to the committee, those same lawmakers asked no questions and later issued official statements that indicated support for kindergarten, even as they included a few caveats about long-term fiscal responsibility.
“After meeting with Gov. Polis to learn more about his budget proposal, I believe his ideas are a solid blueprint which we can build upon for our next budget,” Moreno said in a news release. “I look forward to continued conversations between the JBC and the governor to see how we can best fulfill these requests and fund these programs in the long-term.”