By Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado
Jeannie Nelson didn’t have to pay for full-day kindergarten for her two older children because her family was below the Denver school district’s income threshold. But her husband, an EMT, recently got a raise, and now the family is waiting to know if they’ll have to pay for their third child, a 5-year-old who will enroll this fall.
That prospect is forcing an agonizing conversation for the southwest Denver family. They’re also facing preschool costs for their fourth child, who has multiple disabilities.
“Right now we’re on the bubble,” Nelson said. “So we’re at a point that, if we have to pay, whose education is more important? The one that is slightly ahead but on track to just zoom through things? Or the one that has special needs that needs therapy that he gets through his school? That shouldn’t be even a factor.”
Colorado education advocates are marshalling these types of stories to bolster their argument that the state should cover the full cost of kindergarten for all students. Nelson was one of nearly a dozen parents from Highlands Ranch and Pueblo, Lakewood and Denver who gathered in a library community room Wednesday evening to tell Gov. Jared Polis why full-day kindergarten matters to them and why tuition represents a real hardship.
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The state budget, which got initial approval in the state Senate earlier Wednesday afternoon, includes $185 million to pay for kindergarten students at the same rate as older students. That’s about 80 percent of what Polis originally asked for and assumes that not all school districts will immediately implement it and that not all eligible students will enroll.