New Full-Day Kindergarten Law Will Impact School Districts Differently
Keegan Kellogg sits at the front of his classroom, facing about 20 students. He points to their next assignment written on a letter-sized piece of white paper.
"It says, 'I learned a bunch in…?'" Kellogg asked.
"Kindergarten," replied the students.
Kellogg teaches at Jackson Elementary School in Greeley. Greeley-Evan School District 6 has offered free, full-day kindergarten for about 15 years. Next year, all school districts in the state will be able to offer the same.
Gov. Jared Polis signed the State Funding for Full-day Kindergarten bill into law earlier this month. Full-day kindergarten will be fully funded through the School Finance Act formula.
In the past, the state only funded half-day kindergarten. It was then up to individual districts to decide if they wanted to fund a full-day program, which usually meant either paying for it themselves or charging parents tuition.
Greeley-Evans School District 6 chose the former.
"We have never charged a tuition fee for all-day kindergarten in District 6," said Theresa Myers, chief of communications for District 6. "But we know the educational importance of it."
District 6 currently pays for full-day kindergarten with money from its general fund and the Colorado READ Act. Now that the state will be footing the bill starting next school year, the district can use these funds for something else: to raise salaries for teachers and other employees across the district.
"We know that we are existing in an extremely competitive environment for teachers and we want to hire and retain the highest quality staff that we can," Myers said. "We will institute those raises for everyone in the district."
Even though District 6 has offered full-day kindergarten for years, space is still an issue. The district may need to ask voters to pass a bond issue in the fall to build more classrooms, said Myers.
The new law will allow schools district that currently use ECARE for full-day kindergarten to retain those slots for use for full or half-day preschool within that district. It will free up more than 5,000 preschool slots. Additionally, the law narrows persistent achievement gaps by helping to provide free full-day kindergarten to every single child, regardless of zip code.
Polis emphasized during his speech at the bill signing that the law will save parents money.
"Whether it's about making sure families can save that money that would've gone to kindergarten, $300 or $400 a week, and use it for summer camps or to start a college savings account," said Polis. "Whether it's about allowing a second parent to return to work sooner."
Poudre School District in Fort Collins charges parents tuition of about $3,000 per year for full-day kindergarten. That fee will be waived moving forward. The free schooling will make a big difference in the lives of many families, said Madeline Noblett, executive director of communications for Poudre School District.
The law will not require a child to attend full-day kindergarten or prohibit school districts from offering just half-day programs. Poudre School District plans to offer both options.
"Principals at each school will decide whether to offer a dedicated half-day program or offer an embedded model," said Noblett. "That's the idea that half-day and full-day students are in one classroom and the half-day students would leave early."
Offering full-day kindergarten could be a financial burden for some school districts. To mitigate implementation costs, Polis also signed HB19-1055, which provides $25 million to help school districts with kindergarten and preschool programs.
"So, districts can do things like buy little chairs and little desks for their little students," said Jennifer Stedron, executive director of Early Milestones Colorado. "Buy new materials and otherwise get themselves ready to offer a quality experience for kids."