Steamboat Springs The idea of bringing all-day kindergarten to the Steamboat Springs School District certainly isn't new, but we were nonetheless pleased to see the School Board discuss the possibility during a recent meeting. It's an idea we think could benefit local families and, most important, children.
As it stands, the school district offers half-day kindergarten classes that begin in the morning and afternoon. Many working families must find childcare for the other half of the day when their children aren't at school.
Steamboat's two public elementary schools offer half-day kindergarten programming because that's the limit to what the state will fund. In fact, Colorado doesn't require its school districts to offer any level of kindergarten programming.
But that doesn't mean they shouldn't, and district officials have taken appropriate steps to prepare for a future with all-day kindergarten. Specifically, the new Soda Creek Elementary School and renovations at Strawberry Park Elementary School will include additional kindergarten classrooms.
Of course, implementing the program isn't as easy as creating the space for it.
Cost will be the district's biggest hurdle to overcome. Fortunately, there are options worth consideration.
School Board member John DeVincentis suggested at a recent meeting that parents could pay the difference in cost between the half-day and all-day programs. District officials have estimated that cost at more than $200,000 a year.
"That comes out to be about $1,600 a year for full-day kindergarten, which is a bargain for working families compared to full-day day care," said DeVincentis, who noted many families pay as much as $55 a day for childcare. "Over the course of the year, that's one-tenth what they would have paid."
What about the families that can't afford childcare? It is those children who stand to lose the most.
Instead, the School Board should consider the following:
n Asking the Education Fund Board for the money. The Fund Board is expected to go to the voters next fall to renew the city's half-cent sales tax for education. That tax generates more than $2 million a year, nearly all of which is gifted to the school district for various programs. A campaign promise of providing money to fund all-day kindergarten could go a long way toward building voter support, and the relatively small price tag means there will be plenty of funds for other programs.
n Have the Fund Board consider offering all-day kindergarten scholarships for lower-income families.
n Going directly to the voters. New legislation allows the district to seek as much as a 1-mill tax increase specifically to fund all-day kindergarten programming.
Even with funding secured, obstacles will remain. Children participating in an all-day kindergarten program presumably would be let out of school around 3 p.m., leaving a couple of hours when many families still would need alternative day care.
But we're confident with a proper public process and planning, the district can and should make it work, and here's why: The biggest benefit to all-day kindergarten is educational. As we've said before, keeping children in one place for most of the day is safer and allows for more consistent instruction. Doubling the amount of instruction time for kindergarten students will leave them that much better prepared for entering the first grade and enjoying success throughout their school years.
That's a result we can all support.