A bill that would fund full-day kindergarten in Colorado is headed to the state Senate.
The House voted 53-11 on Tuesday to send the bill on to its next destination. It cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Friday.
House Bill 1262 has garnered more support during the 2019 session than any previous effort, as Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida can attest to. Wilson is the co-prime sponsor of this year's legislation, which is backed by Gov. Jared Polis. It would provide about $175 million to cover the other half of all-day kindergarten costs currently borne either by school districts or by parents.
Wilson has sponsored bills to provide funding for full-day kindergarten since the 2014 session. Not one of those bills ever made it past the House Appropriations Committee, until last week.
The state currently funds 58% of a full-day of kindergarten. Not all school districts offer kindergarten — it's an optional program — but the fiscal analysis for House Bill 1262 notes that about 81% of Colorado kindergartners already attend a partial or full-day kindergarten program.
Some school districts that provide full day use their operating budgets to cover the rest of the cost; others tap into special property tax assessments, known as mill levies, which are approved by voters. In some districts parents pay tuition, as much as $500 per month.
The fiscal analysis estimates that the bill will drive up the participation rate to 90% by fiscal year 2020-21.
Friday's full House debate was about as low-key as possible. Only one lawmaker — Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs — offered any discussion, on his amendment to hike the funding to $214 million. Williams said he believed the utilization rate — at 85% — was too low and the program would hence be underfunded if enrollment exceeded 85%. His amendment would cover 100% enrollment, he said, but fellow lawmakers didn't buy it.
The bill was approved on a voice vote late Friday that appeared to be unanimous.
The General Assembly first authorized funding for full-day kindergarten in the 2008 School Finance Act, but cut the program's funding in 2010, landing at the 58% of funding for a full-day non-kindergarten student.