State Rep. Barbara McLachlan predicted state funding for full-day kindergarten, one of her main legislative goals, will become a reality during the current session of the Colorado General Assembly.
In a telephone interview with The Durango Herald on Thursday night, McLachlan, D-Durango, Gov. Jared Polis and state Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida, said the Joint Budget Committee has set aside $185 million to fully fund full-day kindergarten in Colorado – a good indication the measure will pass this session.
When asked if the Legislature has enough votes to pass the measure, McLachlan said, “I think we do.”
She added, “And they are very strong bipartisan votes. We’ve got a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans, and Rep. Wilson and I are good representatives of that.”
Polis said a strong economy in Colorado for the past few years has provided enough revenue to fund full-day kindergarten.
Polis also said the local share of funding for education has increased, which provides more state funds to allocate to kindergarten.
Originally, Polis asked for $227 million for full-day kindergarten, but he said that was based on every possible kindergartner enrolling in public schools. He said Thursday that $185 million would be adequate.
“Some families do home-schooling, some families do private school,” he said.
Wilson said funding full-day kindergarten won’t eliminate educational budget cuts during future recessions, when tax revenue drops. However, including it as part of the state’s entire education budget should offer some cushion for kindergarten programs if there are cuts in the future.
“The difference this bill will make is that we bring all the students under the same umbrella, so that the kindergarten students, instead of hanging outside that umbrella, will be under the umbrella,” Wilson said.
McLachlan said the bill would provide $1.36 million in additional state funding for full-day kindergarten in Durango.
Durango School District 9-R already funds full-day kindergarten with local tax dollars, so the legislation would cover the district’s out-of-pocket expenses and allow the district to shift local dollars to other educational needs, the governor said.
“For the districts that are back-filling kindergarten, it frees up those resources to reduce class size, to do more preschool, to pay teachers better – all those priorities that districts have,” he said.
Funding full-day kindergarten will allow another state program, the Early Childhood At-Risk Enhancement Program, which is principally used to fund preschool slots, to provide 74 more positions for preschoolers in Durango, McLachlan said.
“Today was Rural Schools Day in the Capitol, and so this is the perfect time to say this was a fabulous bill for rural schools.”