Colorado parents will be able to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten at no cost starting this fall.
A final vote in the Colorado House Tuesday evening sealed the deal for one of Gov. Jared Polis’ key campaign promises and top legislative priorities.
Colorado currently pays a little more than half the standard per-pupil rate for kindergarten students. While most kindergarten students already attend full-day programs, in many districts parents pay tuition or districts pull from other needs to cover the cost. Roughly 13,000 students — 20 percent — attend half-day programs.
Arguing that paying for full-day kindergarten would offer myriad benefits, from giving all Colorado children an equal chance at a good start to putting money back in the pockets of working parents, Polis pushed hard for lawmakers to make room in the budget for his proposal. Colorado has lagged behind many other states in expanding kindergarten.
The 2019-20 budget already signed into law sets aside $175 million to cover kindergarten costs. The money comes from higher local property revenue generated by a strong economy, which in turn frees up money in the state budget.
House Bill 1262 says that kindergarten students should be covered like all other students, and bans districts from charging tuition. It now heads to Polis’ desk for his signature. The measure also frees up money for some 5,000 state-funded preschool spots for children from low-income families.
Although some Republicans and even Democrats raised questions about the long-term sustainability of this plan, the measure drew broad bipartisan support. State Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican and former superintendent who co-sponsored the legislation, has been an advocate for full-day kindergarten for years.
The kindergarten bill passed unanimously in the Senate. In the House, 10 Republicans voted no, including two who voted yes in committee: state Rep. Tim Geitner of Falcon and state Rep. Perry Buck of Windsor. In Tuesday’s vote, House members accepted Senate amendments to the bill, a necessary final step. The 2019 legislative sessions ends Friday.
Free full-day kindergarten goes into effect for the 2019-20 school year.
Districts won’t be required to offer it, and parents may still opt for a half-day program. However, many districts with large numbers of half-day students are planning to make the transition for this fall.
A separate bill sets aside $25 million from marijuana tax money for grants to districts that need to do construction or renovate classrooms to switch to full-day kindergarten.