DENVER – A bill to fund free full-day kindergarten for all in Colorado is now under consideration in the Colorado General Assembly, following up on a campaign promise made by Governor Jared Polis.
If the bill is passed, schools cannot charge fees beyond those passed to parents of children in other grade levels, as the bill is currently written.
It will change current law to prohibit districts from using a half-day preschool position to enroll a child in full-day kindergarten. Districts that used the practice in the current budget year will be allowed to keep those student slots as long as they are used for preschool students only.
A summary of the bill states:
A student enrolled in a full-day kindergarten educational program will be funded at the same amount as students enrolled full-time in other grades. A student enrolled in a half-day kindergarten educational program will be funded as a half-day student plus the existing amount of supplemental kindergarten funding.
Any district that doesn’t have a kindergarten program must submit a plan on how they would implement a program, but are not required to start a program at this time. Charter schools wanting to transition a half-day program to a full-day program must seek permission and amend their charter, if necessary.
The Joint Budget Committee has set aside $185 million to pay for the provisions of HB-19-1262.
“We all understand how important it is, we just have to make sure that we are prudent and we are making careful decisions about all of the funding priorities that we must attend to for the entire state,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) who serves on the Joint Budget Committee.
In laying out his vision earlier this year, Gov. Polis sought $227 million for the program, with funding from the reserve funds for schools, higher local property taxes, and allocations by the General Assembly.
According to Esgar, the committee took a conservative proposal this year on the budget, mainly due to the concern of a possible recession in the coming years.
The governor says kindergarten is just as important as first grade. “If we really want to end these achievement gaps based on income level and based on race,” Governor Polis told News5 in January. “It’s really important that every child get a strong start.”
“We fund our schools through our property tax and revenues through oil and gas, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” said Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs). Hill is referring to a bill making its way through the legislature right now that would change the oil and gas industry in the state. Opponents to that measure say it will negatively impact Colorado’s economy.
The bill’s first hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, April 9 in the House Education committee.
HB19-1262 is sponsored by Rep. James Wilson (R-Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Park), Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Archuleta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, La Plata, Ouray, San Juan), and Sen. Jeff Bridges (D-Arapahoe).