Jared Polis visits Avon Elementary School, touts full-day kindergarten proposal | VailDaily.com

Jared Polis visits Avon Elementary School, touts full-day kindergarten proposal

New governor visits Avon Elementary to promote his plan

AVON — A kindergartner looked up and asked Colorado's new governor what his job is, and whether he likes it.

"My job is fun. I just started three weeks ago," Gov. Jared Polis told an Avon Elementary School kindergarten class.

"Why are you here?" another youngster asked.

"We're trying to make kindergarten free for everybody," Polis answered.

"Thank you," another kindergartner said as Polis smiled broadly.

And with that, a preschooler ran over and threw his arms around Colorado's governor, giving him a big hug.

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Full-day kindergarten

Polis was in Avon Elementary School on Friday morning to promote his proposal for full-day kindergarten.

Supporters are fond of saying Polis' proposal means full-day kindergarten would be free. It's not. It will cost Colorado taxpayers $225 million, Polis said, but it will not require a tax increase. It's money the state already has, according to the governor's budget proposal.

The budgeting can be complicated; the reasoning is not: If you want more students to graduate high school, you start in kindergarten, Polis said.

Polis stopped past Avon Elementary because Avon Elementary has one of Colorado's highest percentages of English language learners among its student body.

All-day kindergarten would be an option for families, not a requirement, Polis said.

If a family prefers half-day kindergarten or no kindergarten at all, that's their decision, he said.

How it would work

Polis is fluent in Spanish and shifted seamlessly between Spanish and English during the 45 minutes he toured Avon Elementary, especially as he read "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus" to a kindergarten class. The children peppered him with questions in both languages. He handled them all.

Among those questions in both languages, adults asked how his full-day kindergarten proposal would work.

Right now, the school district pays 58 percent of the cost of full-day kindergarten. That gets kids a half-day free. If families want full-day kindergarten they have to pay for it.

Under Polis' plan, the state would pick up the other 42 percent, or $225 million.

Eagle County Schools spends $261,000 a year to subsidize full-day kindergarten for families below a certain income level, said the school district's Shelley Smith. That covers full-day kindergarten for 414 students.

The Vail Valley Foundation's YouthPower365 covers $67,000 of that, but they're shifting that funding from kindergarten to after-school programs, Smith said. That means the school district will have to cover that, too, if Polis' proposal fails.

If families want full-day kindergarten for their kids and they do not qualify for scholarships or subsidies, they pay $275 a month per kid, Smith said.

In Colorado's larger school districts, families pay up to $475 per month per kid, Polis said.

Staff writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com