Our View: Colorado needs free full-day kindergarten | VailDaily.com

Our View: Colorado needs free full-day kindergarten

For a state that boasts such a highly-educated populace, Colorado doesn’t show its public schools much love.

Currently Colorado ranks 34th in public school revenue per student, and that’s actually an increase from the 40-something rankings it held over the past couple of decades. The average public school revenue, per student, in our state, is $11,545. New York tops the list of states (behind only the District of Columbia) in per-student public school revenue at more than twice what Colorado pays — $23,712.

There’s no way Colorado is going to close that gap, and it may not even be a good idea to try. Simply throwing money at an issue isn’t a great business plan and it can be a fatal political strategy. Luckily that’s not what Colorado is looking at with newly-elected Gov. Jared Polis’s bold education reform plan to fund full-time kindergarten statewide.

Polis has proposed earmarking $227 million for communities and districts to provide free, full-day kindergarten. The money would come from surplus tax revenues, and the competition for those dollars is fierce. Colorado lawmakers will be faced with the decision of whether to apply that money to the kindergarten effort or spend it on other state priorities.

Polis argues that because Colorado currently only funds a half day, leaving it to Colorado's school districts to pull from other programs or to charge parents fees if they want to offer full-day kindergarten, damaging inequities that hurt the most vulnerable students and exacerbate achievement gaps.

Organizations have studied the effect of early childhood education for decades and the simple conclusion of all that research is kids who don’t get the benefit of early childhood education have a hard time catching up with their peers who do. Locally, the Vail Valley Foundation has concluded it can help fulfill its mission to enhance and sustain the quality of life in the Vail Valley by funding full-time kindergarten. Through its Success at 6 program, the Foundation has provided more than $3 million to send local kids to full-time kindergarten. This year alone, the VVF is providing $54,360 in kindergarten subsidies for 221 kids.

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Tom Boyd from the VVF noted that 37 percent of Eagle County Schools students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. For those families, who are struggling to pay for housing and food, the $280 monthly cost of full-time kindergarten just isn’t an expense they can afford. But those families are fortunate that they live in an area where there is an organization willing to help out. Kids in other areas of Colorado aren’t so lucky and it is past time for state government to tackle the issues of both educational equity and educational excellence.

When it comes right down to it, financing public education is one of state government’s most critical tasks and Colorado simply doesn’t do enough. Polis’ proposal speaks to the ideas that all Colorado kids should get the same benefit of early childhood education while also staking out the position that Colorado values public education and is willing to make the investment to improve public schools.

As the educated group we are, Colorado residents should embrace funding full-time kindergarten. It is the single biggest step the state can make, today, to give all our kids a chance to succeed.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Ad Director Holli Snyder, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd and Business Editor Scott Miller.