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Full-day kindergarten not free for some Colorado schools

Posted at 7:29 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 23:23:58-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – Colorado Governor Jared Polis is expected to soon sign a bi-partisan bill fulfilling his campaign promise to provide parents with free full-day kindergarten at local public schools. While the legislation spends hundreds of millions of dollars to help most of Colorado schools implement the program, a few local districts will not get as much money, and others will have to pay to meet the new requirements.

The non-partisan Legislative Council Staff prepares Fiscal Notes on every bill introduced during the session. These documents give lawmakers a clear idea of how much money their bills will cost either state government, local government or both.

The Fiscal Note on House Bill 1262 includes a 5-page table which breaks down the costs facing every individual district. The vast majority will pay $0 in what the document calls a “local share” in exchange for the new state revenue.

However, four districts (Cherry Creek, Colorado Springs, Harrison and Steamboat Springs) will have to pay a local share because they have not asked their voters to be exempt from the Colorado Tax Payers Bill of Rights (TABOR.)

In D-11, the local share amounts to nearly $1.8 million. In D-2, it’s around $409,000.

That was news to local administrators when we contacted them on Wednesday.

“That’s something we’re looking at,” said Shelley Becker, Chief Financial Officer at Harrison District 2. “We have contacted CDE and our bond counsel to provide additional thoughts and intent on that because, yeah, that wasn’t something we were quite expecting.”

The State of Colorado provides school districts with money based on a formula which counts the total number of students enrolled. Lawmakers have previously assumed kindergarten students will only attend for half a day. So, the per-pupil funding amount is reduced to 58 percent of the full amount.

House Bill 1262 increases that funding formula by about $183 million next year by counting 85 percent of all kindergarten students as full-time students. It’s an accounting change, but the results create statewide enrollment growth of more than 22,000 students.

That enrollment growth triggers the TABOR revenue limit, which caps government spending by a formula of population growth plus inflation.

The local share listed in the Fiscal Note effectively reduces the amount of money the four districts would have received.

However, D-2 and D-11 have both provided parents with tuition-free full-day kindergarten programs for years without state assistance. Becker said she welcomes the $3.2 million they expect to receive, even if it is a little less.

“What this additional revenue stream means for our students, for our community, our population; and it’s recurring revenue, it just really reinforces that we’re getting funded for doing what’s best for kids,” Becker said.

The Fiscal Note also shows that a handful of districts will receive no state funding to assist with the kindergarten expansion. Schools in the Cripple Creek, Platte Valley, Fort Lupton, Prairie, and Pawnee districts are all considered self-funded under the School Finance Act because their local property tax collections are too high to receive state assistance.

The Legislative Council estimates the full-day kindergarten mandate will cost Cripple Creek schools an extra $82,000 next year. The total unfunded mandate for all five districts combined amounts to more than $1 million.