Simla Elementary School kindergarten teacher Holly Koehn helps out student Skylar Griffin at the Big Sandy School Monday, February 25, 2019. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado

Large Colorado school districts that collectively serve thousands of children in half-day kindergarten programs are preparing to switch to full-day programs this fall, potentially pushing up the cost of Gov. Jared Polis’ signature education initiative.

Lawmakers have set aside $185 million — about 80 percent of what Polis requested — to pay for full-day kindergarten next year. Their logic in not paying for all of it: That not all districts will immediately make the jump and that not all parents will enroll their children in full-day since there is no mandate.

But a number of districts — including Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, and Douglas County in the Denver metro area, and Grand Junction-based District 51 — are pushing to make the jump next fall, concerned about the academic and financial ramifications if they don’t.

“With free full-day kindergarten across the state, nobody wants to lose enrollment,” said Ted Knight, assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District, where 1,600 students, a little more than a third of all kindergartners, are in half-day programs this year.

Some lawmakers were already concerned about the long-term sustainability of Polis’ plan, which depends on local property tax revenue remaining high. The eagerness of districts to move to full-day kindergarten speaks to the importance of ensuring a good start for young learners even as it raises questions about Colorado’s ability to pay for it.


Chalkbeat Colorado

Twitter: @ChalkbeatCO