DENVER – Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to most of the money Gov. Jared Polis had asked for to implement full-day kindergarten in districts across the state that wish to do so.
The JBC voted 5-1 to approve $185 million in what is essentially a placeholder for the program. A bill is still in the works and some lawmakers are still working to decide which initiatives and prerogatives of the governor’s to prioritize this year – though Polis has made clear full-day kindergarten is among his top priorities.
Polis proposed $227 million to pay for full-day kindergarten that he would like to start this fall in his budget proposal earlier this year.
But according to The Denver Post, the $185 million approved by the JBC would cover the percentage of districts that would choose to opt-in to the program, which Polis had said would be optional.
“$227M assumed 100% enrollment (with unused funds deposited in State Education Fund), $185 is based on estimated enrollment,” he tweeted to a reporter inquiring about the difference.
Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said she wanted to give the JBC, of which she is vice chair, more leeway in how it might spend the difference between what Polis had sought and what the JBC allocated since it’s unlikely all the districts will opt-in. Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, was the sole JBC member voting against the approval of the money, The Denver Post reported.
Polis was pleased with the JBC’s decision Tuesday.
“Thank you to the members of the Joint Budget Committee for recommending full funding for free, full-day kindergarten this year,” he tweeted. “This will save parents and school districts money, and give our students an even brighter future. A huge win for Colorado kids!”
Teachers and parents Denver7 spoke with about the full-day kindergarten proposal in January were overwhelmingly supportive of the program. Polis has said the program would free up nearly $100 million currently spent on kindergarten to pay for teachers and infrastructure.
At least one district was happy with Tuesday’s development.
“A big thanks to the @CO_JBC (Joint Budget Committee) of the Colorado State Legislature & @GovofCO (Jared Polis) for prioritizing kindergarten funding,” Denver Public Schools tweeted. “You’re helping ensure that all our kids start out on the right foot and that #everychildsucceeds.”
The JBC on Wednesday finalized the Long Bill, the budget package, which will move to the Senate next week.