By Dan Dougherty
On Wednesday, March 27, the state budget received initial approval in the Colorado Senate, including $185 million to pay for full-day kindergarten for students. The funding level is about 80% of the amount initially requested by Gov. Jared Polis and is based on the idea that not all eligible students will enroll and that not all school districts will immediately implement the program. Rest assured that Eagle County Schools will immediately implement the plan if passed.
Advocates for full-day kindergarten continue to lobby for the funding and are leaving nothing to chance. Parents from around the state are reaching out to state legislators to explain why tuition represents a real hardship for them, often resulting in an impossible decision that pits one child’s quality of education against another’s in the same family. Given the high cost of housing in our county, we know it is a hardship for many, if not most, in our community.
If the budget continues and passes in its current state, Eagle County Schools would receive around $1.5 million in additional revenue to fund full-day kindergarten. The school district will no longer need to charge parents in our community a little over $500,000 in annual tuition, nor will the district have to subsidize the cost from the general fund. Theoretically, the whole community wins, as this half of a million dollars can be spent elsewhere in the local economy.
Erica Metzler, bureau chief for Chalkbeat’s Capitol Report, said in the March 31 edition that “Gov. Polis said at an event with parents last week that money for full-day kindergarten is safe.” Metzler went on to report that Senate Majority Leader Steve Fernberg and State Minority Leader Chris Holbert agree with the governor.
That sounds very promising for parents across the state and parents right here at home. The challenge with state budgeting is that it’s possible for the funding of full-day kindergarten to be safe at the same time that the status of other educational monies remains uncertain. Forecasters are speculating that the state may reduce the fund-reducing “budget stabilization” factor by around $90 in per-pupil funding. And, that overall per-pupil funding may increase around two-percent for a cost-of-living adjustment. Both of these would incrementally increase funding to schools.
The other question for the school district’s budgeting process is whether or not expenses will rise faster than increases in revenue. They often do. We anticipate increases in both health insurance costs and mandated increases in PERA contributions. Still, we are optimistic about state education funding for the first time in a decade. More district budget information will be shared at the April 10 Board of Education meeting, so please join us at 6 p.m. in the meeting room at Red Canyon West in Gypsum.
In the meantime, please continue to reach out to elected state officials to express your priorities regarding education and other matters.
Dan Dougherty is the Chief Communications Officer for Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org