Pencil in hand, Jazmyn Jones works through her lesson in kindergarten class at University Elementary School, 6525 W 18th St, in Greeley. (Joshua Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

More Colorado children than predicted have enrolled in full-day kindergarten, but these additional students are unlikely to break the state budget — in part because Colorado has fewer students in the older grades.

Complete pupil counts for the 2019-20 school year won’t be released until later this month, but early numbers provided to legislative analysts and included in the most recent state budget forecasts showed that 23,802 additional students enrolled in kindergarten this school year, compared with 2018-19. That’s about 1,400 more students than legislators had assumed when they included full-day kindergarten in the budget for the first time and represents 92% of eligible students.

That means the additional cost associated with full-day kindergarten is $204 million, of which the state is responsible for $198.3 million, according to legislative analysts. That’s about 8.4% more than was budgeted.

However, those kindergartners account for almost all the 3.5% overall student growth from last year, and local property taxes will generate more money than was predicted.

That means the state only needs to come up with an extra $9 million, less than 0.2% of the more than $4.6 billion that Colorado will spend on K-12 education this budget year. Birth rates have remained lower since the Great Recession, and enrollment is expected to be nearly flat in the near future.

Expanding full-day kindergarten and making it free to families was one of Gov. Jared Polis’ top priorities last year, and funding it required some twisting and tweaking of forecasts.


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...