A bill to fund all-day kindergarten is one step away from the governor's desk.
On Friday, the Colorado Senate gave unanimous approval to a measure to allocate $183 million to allow the state's 178 school districts to offer free, full-day kindergarten if they don't do so already and want to offer it.
The measure to do that, HB1262, also will free up about 5,000 preschool slots in school districts, its sponsors say.
"Every kid in Colorado deserves a fair shot at success no matter where they come from," said Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, who introduced the bill with Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Reps. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, and Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango.
"The differences kids show up with in the first grade stay with them the rest of their educational careers," Bridges added. "Fully funded full-day kindergarten gives every kid across the state a strong start, helps level the playing field and ensures all our kids have the opportunity to earn a good life."
The Colorado Department of Education estimates that about 20 percent of Colorado kindergarten students are not in full-day programs. The parents of many of the others who are have to pay extra to have their children in kindergarten.
Fields said that having more children in kindergarten all day, and the even more students enrolled in preschool programs, is a financial boon to parents who are struggling to pay the rising cost of day care.
"Full-day kindergarten programs better accommodate both students and working families, but we do Colorado students a disservice by requiring families to fund full-day kindergarten themselves," Fields said. "It's time we invest in every child to ensure they have a strong head start."
The bill directs any school district that isn't already offering full-day kindergarten to submit a plan on how it could phase it in, but it doesn't require those districts to actually offer such a program.
If a charter school wants to expand an existing half-day program to full day, it must notify its charter authorizer and amend its charter contract. If the authorizer objects, the two must negotiate a contract change, but if they cannot agree, the charter school can appeal the matter to the State Board of Education.
Because of some minor changes, the bill will head back to the House for a final vote, which will occur sometime next week. It initially passed the House earlier this month on a 53-11 vote, with only Republicans opposing it. All Western Slope lawmakers from both parties supported the bill.