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.
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