Colorado parents who want to send their kindergartners to school all day instead of just three hours often have to pay tuition — up to $400 per month — because
the state does not fund full-day kindergarten.
Legislation to change that is up for debate this year at the state Capitol, though it's expectedly short-lived as the measure was sent by the Republican-controlled Senate not to the education committee but to the so-called "kill committee," where bills regularly go to die.
Get details on Colorado state legislation.
Eleven states and Washington, D.C., require school districts to provide publicly funded full-day kindergarten, according to the Children's Defense Fund. Colorado is one of 19 states that fund kindergarten-age children at about half the rate of students in first-grade through 12th grade, meaning the state "disincentivizes" districts from providing full-day kindergarten, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States.
In Colorado, it's up to districts to decide whether to use funds to provide full-day kindergarten and how much to charge for tuition. Many districts charge from $200 to $400 per month. The state Department of Education does not track district tuition costs.
Without state funding, options and costs for full-day kindergarten vary across Colorado.
Ten districts, many in rural areas, do not offer it at all.
In Jefferson County, low-income students are eligible for free full-day kindergarten at schools that offer it. Others pay $300 per month.
In Douglas County, tuition averages about $300 per month depending on the school.
More than 64,000 kindergartners attend school at one of the 179 districts in Colorado that offer full-day kindergarten. The majority of those — 76 percent — attend full-day kindergarten, according to state data.
Two districts, Brush and Summit, have mill levies for full-day kindergarten.
The legislation from Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, calls for a ballot question next fall on whether Colorado should fund full-day kindergarten. The bill proposes increasing funding during the next five years, making full-day kindergarten fully funded by 2021.
Referendum C, passed by voters in 2005, allowed the state to keep a capped amount of revenues that otherwise would have been refunded under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Money for full-day kindergarten would come from that refund. Under current law, the TABOR refund in 2017-18 would total an estimated $384 million, which would go toward full-day kindergarten if the legislation were to pass.
The Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee debated the legislation this week but has yet to vote on the measure. Republican senators on the committee said they might support the bill if it were amended to first pay off the "negative factor" — the $850 million deficit between what schools receive annually and what school finance formula says they should receive. If any funds remained after that, which is unlikely in the near future, they would go toward full-day kindergarten.
Returning that money to schools is a higher priority than state-funded full-day kindergarten, in part because all but 10 districts are offering full-day kindergarten now, said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
But Kerr said state funding would help middle-class families who don't qualify for tuition assistance. "My 6-year-old son is going to be competing for jobs against kids from around the world and other states, and most of those kids, when they were 5 years old, were going to school full day," Kerr said. "That's 21st-century education."
Full-day kindergarten has gained traction in the last few decades. The percentage of kindergartners enrolled in full-day programs nationally — either private or public — increased from 25 percent in 1979 to 63 percent in 2000, according to the Education Commission of the States.
Washington was among the latest to approve state-funded full-day kindergarten.
10 school districts that offer no full-day kindergarten
Colorado Digital Boces