Giving Thought: A big potential victory for Colorado kids with full-day kindergarten funding |

Giving Thought: A big potential victory for Colorado kids with full-day kindergarten funding

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Aspen Community Foundation, Lauder event, Aug. 13, 2018.
Steve Mundinger

Colorado’s public education system is on the verge of an important step forward, thanks to a bill making its way through the General Assembly.

HB 19-1262 would fund full-day kindergarten in public schools across the state. The $175 million in funding for the move is included in the budget signed by Gov. Jared Polis last week. If the legislation — which changes state law to allow for full-day kindergarten — succeeds, then the funding would flow in time for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Full-day kindergarten was one of Polis’ top campaign promises, and we believe it’s a major step forward for Colorado’s children. Research consistently shows that full-day kindergarten increases the likelihood of academic growth and success for children as they move through their school years. Full-day kindergarten also helps teachers to identify students with developmental issues and intervene appropriately.

Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood and policy initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said the outlook is promising for the legislation, which passed the House with strong bipartisan support and is moving through the Senate.

“With this legislation, we’re giving children access to a strong (educational) foundation,” Jaeger said. “So the first beneficiary is the child. But what’s really smart about this investment is that there are so many spillover benefits.”

Currently, kindergarten is a patchwork across the state. The state funds kindergarten students for about a half-day, but schools that offer full-day kindergarten must either pay for the other half themselves or charge tuition up to $4,500 per school year. By stepping in to support full-day kindergarten, the state would save money for both families and school districts, but impacts will vary from district to district.

“There’s not a community in Colorado that isn’t hurting in some way because of the state’s failure to fund full-day kindergarten,” Jaeger said.

From a fiscal standpoint, the state is able to afford the investment thanks to higher-than-expected property tax revenue. These collections have created enough flexibility for the state to make the kindergarten commitment and add to its rainy-day reserves.

Rob Stein, superintendent of the Roaring Fork School District, said the state effort will have a small effect on his district’s budget, but will make a big difference for local families that currently pay kindergarten tuition.

“The vast majority of our students are already in full-day kindergarten, so this won’t change the numbers of classrooms or teachers,” Stein said. “But we do have a lot of tuition-paying parents who are no longer going to have to pay it. Now they may be able to send their kids to preschool.”

Stein supports both the intent and the spillover benefits of HB 19-1262.

“As an educator, I believe it’s important for kids to have full-day kindergarten,” he said. “We should also provide full access to early childhood education (for kids 5 and younger). It’s an important piece of the puzzle just to recognize that kindergarten should be fully funded.”

Youth success is one of our highest priorities at Aspen Community Foundation. Our Cradle to Career Initiative is a multi-pronged, valley-wide effort to ensure that all of the region’s young people, from birth to high school graduation, have the best possible chance to succeed in school and build happy, productive adult lives. The many components of Cradle to Career include efforts to improve access to early childhood education, to help children develop strong social and life skills, to strengthen academic performance and to smooth the transition from high school to college and career.

A commitment by the state of Colorado to fund full-day kindergarten is a welcome sign that our elected officials share the same goal to support the future citizens, workers and leaders of our state. HB 19-1262 is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee today.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.