Beginning in the fall when public schools resume classes, you may hear either a chorus of hallelujahs or a collective soft, whispered ‘thank you,’ from parents sending their child off to kindergarten. And for some parents, full day kindergarten for the first time.
The law creating this long-awaited educational wish passed in the 2019 legislative session and fulfilled a promise Governor Jared Polis had run on. He made things official when he signed the legislation late last month at Denver’s Stedman Elementary School. The legislation frees up $175 million dollars to pay for the school-day extension or approximately 80 percent of the funding the Governor asked for.
While the new funding will give some districts the option of doing things they might not have been able to afford before, in larger districts it will also mean being able to pay for new teachers their budgets could not previously accommodate.
“I was ecstatic,” said Dr. Lisa Roy, Executive Director of Denver Public Schools Early Education Program. “It was something you don’t think you’re going to see in your lifetime.” The Governor’s signature measure means DPS can now count on state money instead of using its own funds and “transferring pre-K dollars” to pay for going the full day.
For Roy, the educator, it was a blue-ribbon day. For Roy, the parent and grandparent, it was a couple of notches higher. “I have to tell you, my oldest son has a son in kindergarten and a daughter in pre-K.” For young parents, the costs for one, let alone educating a pair of young children can tax the budget quickly. “At one point he was paying $2,000 a month for pre-K,” she said. Stories like Roy’s are not unusual.
The bill will not cover costs for every school district only because each district’s needs are different. Also, not all new kindergarten students will be in a full-day program. Also, some parents may opt not to have their children in school the whole day. Some districts will also not implement full-day programs immediately. The bill gives discretion to each district. But the state’s larger school districts, including Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley that are now on ‘half-day K,’ will be going full-time in the fall.
Right now about 80 percent of Colorado’s 61,749 kindergarten students attend school all day. But full-day kindergarten in some districts mean parents picking up the tab for the second half of the day. In Denver, “we do it on a sliding scale,” said Roy. Parents with a lower income pay less but for higher earning families, “it’s more difficult.” The cost goes up.
“It’s exciting,” said Roy. The new law frees parents who will no longer have to worry about how they’re going to pay for the half day daycare they may have been facing. Roy called it “win-win” for parents and for grandparents, the people often left responsible for taking care of their children’s children.
The new law says public schools can no longer charge tuition for full-day kindergarten as some were doing previously in order to cover costs. That provides Roy with a comfort level that she had not enjoyed when she had to deal with telling parents they owed money. Parents who could not meet their obligation and fell into arrears oftentimes were “turned over to collections.”
This new approach to educating kindergartners is the fulfillment to a long-held dream among parents, educators and administrators. In Pueblo, where full-day kindergarten has been a reality for the last five years, it’s an investment in the future. “We believe in full-day kindergarten and know the value it provides to both our students and their families,” said Dalton Sprouse, Pueblo District spokesman. “By providing full-day education to these young students, we are able to provide them with two nutritious meals on weekdays, and the students also benefit from increased socialization and academic growth to better prepare them for first grade.”
The benefits of having pre-K and full day kindergarten pay off in numerous ways, said Roy. “Pre-school is typically where children start to learn social skills and kindergarten solidifies that.” Their reading skills are enhanced as well as their social and emotional skills. For children who are learning a new language, the benefits are immense.
In Denver, not all kindergarten students will be full time. “Right now we have a couple of part-day kindergarten (programs),” said Roy. The DPS executive said these programs are for special need students but also for parents who have chosen not to have their child attending school the whole day.