Full-day kindergarten by fall 2019 gets $227 million in Polis budget proposal

The new governor shared an early look at his budget proposal, which includes funding totals for one of his signature goals.

Newly inaugurated Governor Jared Polis speaks to the press in his office, Jan. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Newly inaugurated Governor Jared Polis speaks to the press in his office, Jan. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

We’ve got an initial price for one of top items on Gov. Jared Polis’ to-do list.

It was revealed Tuesday when Polis shared parts of his first budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Among the items was the proposed funding total for free, full-day kindergarten: $227 million for communities and districts. On top of that, Polis wants $25.7 million for implementation costs, which would help pay for curriculum, staffing and classroom space for them to be ready for fall 2019, the target date he gave during last week’s State of the State address to provide free kindergarten. The state currently funds half-day kindergarten.

The education portion is one of several sectors covered by the budget that includes other areas like health care, public safety, public health and environment, and transportation.

A release from Polis’ office said the new K-12 budget reflects higher expected local district property tax revenue. Along with lower enrollment growth and inflation, the state funding need for school finance is lower, which is leaving some wiggle room in the governor’s proposal without needing to increase General Fund spending.

“Securing equal opportunity for Colorado families is a key priority of this administration,” Polis said in the release. “Whether it’s education, health care, or protecting public health and safety, this budget lays a strong foundation for a bold new vision for our state.”

The proposal is just a plan at this point, and Joint Budget Committee Chair and state Sen. Dominick Moreno and committee member state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger expressed some doubt about paying for full-day kindergarten after the first year, according to Colorado Politics.

In his letter to the committee, Polis’ office said there are 13,000 children statewide without access to full-day kindergarten. The governor’s office projects providing free full-day kindergarten could save parents as much as $500 or more per month, estimating 30,000 families will have to stop paying tuition for full-day kindergarten and help 8,000 kids attend preschool.

“Combined, my proposal saves tens of thousands of families hundreds of hard-earned dollars each month,” Polis said. He added that providing free kindergarten won’t be a mandate for districts or parents.

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