Early kindergarten tuition still $2K in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Early kindergarten tuition still $2K in Aspen

Parents of kindergartners starting school in the Aspen School District this fall have the option of sending their children for half a day without paying tuition or a full day if they pay $2,000 by Sept. 30.

Kindergarten tuition has been a fact of life in Colorado since 2006, when the state started to provide just over half the funding that it does for students in grades first through 12th.

"The state currently gives schools about $5,000 for every kindergarten student," reported the Colorado education-news website Chalkbeat.org in January. "However, schools receive more than $8,000 for every student in grades one through 12."

For the upcoming year, the Aspen School District is charging $2,200 to parents who pay after Sept. 30. Those parents with other children in preschool pay half the tuition cost for their kindergartners.

This year's full-day tuition fee is the same this year as it was in the 2016-17 school year, said Kate Fuentes, chief financial officer for the Aspen School District. The early rate was $1,800 from 2011-12 through the 2015-16 years, she said.

"We don't raise it every year, but periodically there is an increase because of our cost of doing business," she said, noting parents also can make good on the tuition through payments spread out over the course of the school year.

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The tuition rates ultimately must be approved by the Board of Education during its budgeting process.

In the 2016-17 year, the school drew approximately $140,000 in tuition fees, Fuentes said.

This year's incoming class has roughly 100 kindergartners, "So if everybody paid $2,000, that would generate about $200,000," she said.

For the state to fully fund kindergarten, an additional $249 million would have been needed for the upcoming school year. That's according to a June 2016 Colorado legislative analysis that noted 168 of the state's 178 school districts offer full-day kindergarten "but pay for the program in different ways. Some districts may use operating revenue from total program funding, a general mill levy override or other funds available to the district; some districts have a fee-based program, and two districts (Brush and Summit) have a dedicated mill levy for full-day K."

While Aspen often sits atop many lists for its high cost of living, its kindergarten tuition isn't the highest in the state. A full-day of kindergarten in the Poudre School District this year, for example, is $2,450, along with a $50 registration fee.

Kindergarten tuition also has become a campaign issue in the 2018 Colorado gubernatorial race.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who is seeking his party's nomination, told Chalkbeat.org in June that he wants to create a ballot question that would ask state voters to approve a tax increase allowing pre-schoolers and kindergartners to attend school free on a full-time basis.

And while speaking in Aspen earlier this month at the Pitkin County Democratic Party's annual dinner, Polis stayed on that message.

"Study after study shows the most important investment we can make, the most important years in education, is early childhood education — birth through 5, preschool and kindergarten," he said. "Preventing these learning gaps from arising is far more effective and less expensive than trying to address them later on."

He added, "It's not even a red or blue issue. There are states like Oklahoma that have universal early childhood education, and we can do it here in Colorado."

Classes in Aspen for pre-K through sixth grade start Aug. 24. Grades seven through 12 start Aug. 21.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com