Free full day kindergarten, statewide should be extremely exciting! We’ve advocated for the legislation Senator Andy Kerr has sponsored for many years. It’s important to note that Senator Kerr’s bills always proposed additional funding for his legislation. We’ve been talking about this concern with various stakeholders and coalitions as we attend meetings across the county and state. We were very grateful to see Senator Rachel Zenzinger explain it so well in her latest newsletter. Of course, Senator Zenzinger supports full day kindergarten! She’s been an advocate at the Capitol for those bills for her entire tenure at the legislature and prior to her service as well!
Here’s what she had to share in her newsletter (in bold italics):
Last week I received an email from an individual who wanted to know why I had a “problem” with funding kindergarten, followed by lots of information on the benefits of early childhood education. This email was probably in reaction to some of the comments several of us on the Joint Budget Committee made following Governor Polis’ budget request to fund full-day kindergarten.
As a teacher, I understand the benefits of early childhood education, and I agree. However, my role as a member of the state legislature, and especially as a member of the Joint Budget Committee, is to take both a short-term and long-term view of the budget. While I am confident we can fund full-day kindergarten in the short-term, I am concerned about our ability to maintain that commitment.
Why am I concerned about the future? It has to do with how we fund education now and whether it’s adequate. For example, the way our school finance formula works, we rescind approximately $672 million (8.6%) from the total program cost (known as the budget stabilization factor or negative factor). If we put the proposed $227 million into the formula for kindergarten, we will increase the total program amount, but we must still deduct 8.6% thereby diminishing the investment. And, once we commit to funding it, we must continue funding it at that level going forward.
Jefferson County’s budget stabilization factor last year was $75.2 million. Since implementation, the cumulative effect of the BS factor to Jefferson County totals nearly $1 Billion. And the negative impact of the BS factor has resulted in much more than our ability to fund full-day kindergarten. Currently, 104 out of 178 schools districts operate on a four day school week. We are facing a 3,000 teacher shortage in our state and very low teacher pay. And when the state only funds 34% of special education costs, districts really struggle to meet their needs. (To say nothing about priorities beyond education, such as transportation and housing.)
So while my heart is 100% with the Governor to fund full-day kindergarten, I must approach the budget request with caution. My colleagues and I on the JBC have committed to working with the Governor to figure this out, but it will take time and some creative thinking.
We’ll also note that, as proposed, there appear to be some elementary schools that will experience decreased funding for their students compared to what their current programs bring in funding.
We are grateful to see Senator Zenzinger being so thoughtful about this process. Additional mandates, without adequate funding, can cause harmful burdens to school districts and end up pitting groups of children against each other.
We hope you’ll share this as the facts matter hugely for our students as well as our teachers. She brings up many concerns that require our advocacy and consideration.