A Full-Time K Free Program Brings Equality to Colorado Kindergartens


Once it starts working, all families will benefit from the free full-time kindergarten program, notwithstanding their income.

A Full-Time K Project Offers Equal Benefits to All

An official survey conducted ten years ago in Colorado about the incorporation of full-time kindergarten into state schools didn’t get full support. Telluride, one of the wealthiest state areas, dismissed the entire idea back then, according to this survey by the Colorado Department of Education.

Although they recognized the importance of a full-day kindergarten as a firm basis for students’ further development, they expressed their doubts regarding the amount of money needed for the realization of such a comprehensive project. These doubts seemed legitimate then considering the severe restrictions the educational funds have suffered.

The new Colorado governor, Jarred Polis, decided to make this full-time kindergarten idea the focal point of his plans for education. Thus, the old doubts expressed a decade ago have been raised again.

Since the situation in Colorado education is bleak, budget experts rightfully wonder whether this project is the one to pour the budget money into.

Another national survey showed that Colorado is at the bottom of the list when “spending per pupil” is in question with $2,500 under the national average. The state of affairs is even more alarming in the rural areas of Colorado. Schools cannot offer appealing salaries to teachers, so several districts were forced to “import” teaching staff from the Philippines for deficient positions. In addition, almost 50% of Colorado schools have cut the working week to four days in an attempt to save some money.

Despite all these difficulties education in Colorado has to face, governor Polis managed to push through his plan of full-time daycare in every school. The legislation approved $175 million for the realization of this project while the rest of the money needed came from the marijuana tax income (around $25 million). These funds should help schools get all the necessary equipment and make all the adjustments to welcome preschool kids.

Telluride education representatives pointed out that richer families didn’t need this kind of relief as opposed to poor families. They suggested that the state should subsidize preschool care for those families in need, while the wealthy ones should pay for daycare.

Budget Planners Fear for Program’s Sustainability

Ten years ago when the American economy was going through a severe crisis, Colorado state applied a cutting tool to balance its budget. The result was disastrous for the education funding since there was a cut ranging from $573 million to $1 billion.

These severe cuts are the main concern of a Democrat senator Zanziger, who is in the state body that plans the Colorado budget. She says she supports the project but fears it won’t survive the next economic blow.

When the costs of this ambitious project went down for around $45 million, she decided to back up the governor’s idea. But then she and her colleagues discovered some official stats showing that the attendance of full-time daycare in other states is below 100%.

According to the current stats, 80% of preschool children already go to kindergarten. The majority of parents pay for daycare, but there are children that use some free-kindergarten programs. Zanziger expects 85% of children will start using the full-time daycare state service as soon as it becomes available. This percentage matches the average in other states that offer similar programs.

Senator Zanziger used to advocate the income-based approach, saying that wealthy families should pay for the service. However, she changed her mind after a series of talks with the governor’s office. She said that offering free kindergarten for everyone would introduce a sense of equality into state schools.

Districts Used Local Budgets to Fill in the Kindergarten Funding

Before the governors full-day K program was approved, Colorado state had spent 50% less on kindergartens than on funding elementary or high schools. Some districts had to take the money from their local budgets to fill in this gap. They also went out for federal aid for high-poverty schools to be able to provide for full-day care. Others offered half-day K service with the possibility for parents to pay for the full-day K.

According to Polis’ estimate, nearly 50,000 children used the full-day kindergarten service, and 13,300 went to a half-day care. By introducing this new program, the fundings reserved for kindergartens will match up those for higher educational levels.

Colorado state representatives add that in this way, districts will be able to redirect $100 million from local budgets to some other purposes. For example, in Denver, they can use this money to boost teachers’ salaries and end their strike.

All Families Would Save Some Money With This Project

Another assessment coming from the governor says that 30,000 families in Colorado will save a considerable amount of money they used to spend on kindergarten costs when the full-time K program begins.

This number is a bit overblown because it includes all the education fees that these families have to pay, so it is unknown how many families pay for the kindergarten service.

The above mentioned well-off Telluride district will also benefit from this new project, even though they have a pretty low poor family rate. Only 23% of their students use one of the specific poverty measures — free school lunch — compared to a 42% state average.

Although they supported the idea that rich families should continue to pay for full-time daycare services, Telluride officials swiftly changed their positions. They now fully support Governor Polis in promoting free full-day K for all. They say that the fact the Telluride district is a wealthy resort means that costs of life there are higher than in other parts of Colorado. And the fact that their income doesn’t qualify families for poverty programs puts people in a difficult position because expenses are high.

Douglas County School district is a part of Colorado where a percentage of students using poverty measures is pretty low, lingering around 12%. However, they also look forward to a new state program that will save a lot of money. Parents usually have to spend up to $350 a month on daycare services. This added up to $4.5 million paid for full-time K services during the previous school year.

A representative of a non-profit organization that tackles various child-care issues, Bill Jaeger, believes that enjoying the benefit of the full-time kindergarten state service shouldn’t depend on the district you live in. He says that if it’s free, it should be free for all. He also pointed out that students from the poorer parts of the state had to pay. For example, in Adams, 10 out of 12 schools used the federal aid program for poverty schools. This means students attended two schools not included in this program, and they had to pay for all the costs.

Equal Conditions for All Districts

Jaeger also thinks that determining by the “zip code” who will benefit from this program is obvious discrimination. He also added that this program would bring a huge relief to rural areas, where they had been using local funds to enable the full-day kindergarten service. Now they can use this money elsewhere.

In the meantime, schools across Colorado are hastily preparing for the implementation of this program. In Boulder Valley, the authorities are using the money collected in 2014 in a bond initiative to make kindergarten classrooms ready by fall.

In Cherry Creek, they are going to spend an amazing 5.1 million dollars to double the number of classrooms. It is expected that 1.7 million will be reimbursed by the state of Colorado.

This program will also open new job positions, and it will make it possible for some teachers to keep their jobs, so it seems this is a win-win situation for all.

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