Our View: Yay for all-day; nay to pay

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Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008

  • Bryna Larsen, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Eric Morris, community representative
  • Paul Draper, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The Steamboat Springs School Board should be commended for its efforts to implement an all-day kindergarten program, but district officials should postpone the start of the program until it can accommodate all children tuition-free.

School Board members said Monday they will move forward with the program for the start of the 2008-09 school year despite several significant obstacles, namely a lack of space to accommodate all the potential kindergartners and no set framework for how to fund the program or how much to charge families.

We think, as board member John DeVincentis said, that school officials can work out the space issue. It's the money question that concerns us the most.

District Finance Director Dale Mellor estimates a full-day kindergarten program will cost the district $360,000 a year. That sum includes additional staffing and class materials. The School Board voted unanimously for a tuition-based program to help offset the costs. Under state law, school districts receive funding only for half-day kindergarten; any additional costs must be covered by the individual districts.

Although the details are yet to be worked out, district officials are looking at tuition based on a sliding scale. Mellor used $16 a day in his cost estimates, but officials agreed tuition would almost certainly be higher. Board member Denise Connelly said the district previously has considered daily rates as high as $40 a day.

A recent parent survey revealed many families are willing to pay for all-day kindergarten, and even $40 a day would be significantly cheaper than what many nonprofit early childhood education facilities charge. But we're troubled by the idea of charging families additional fees for public education - particularly education that is generally agreed to be extremely beneficial for many young learners. What if enough scholarships aren't available for poorer families to send their children to all-day kindergarten? Should their children not reap the benefits of additional learning time? And should wealthier families be expected to further subsidize the public education of other families?

Our public education system is designed to provide fair and equal footing for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background. A tuition-based full-day kindergarten program flies in the face of that philosophy. If the Steamboat Springs community believes strongly in providing full-day kindergarten for the developmental and educational benefits it gives children, then we should find a way to fund the program out of existing district revenues or other sources. And we shouldn't implement it until there is room for all children to participate.

We can look to our South Routt neighbors as an example. The South Routt School District for years has offered all-day kindergarten at no additional cost to parents. Soroco officials said they pay for the program out of the district's general fund because it is a priority for the community.

With the rising cost of child care and the proven benefits of having kindergartners in a classroom setting for more than a couple hours a day, it appears Steamboat is ready to make it a similar priority. Our school district has options when it comes to funding, including contributions from the city's half-cent sales tax for education. Education Fund Board members are preparing to go to the voters for a tax renewal; the kindergarten issue could be used to help sell a November ballot question, much like the small class size issue did in 1993, 1996 and 1999. Funding help also could come from the state. Lawmakers and Gov. Bill Ritter have discussed state funding for all-day kindergarten programs, though such funding likely is a year or two away from becoming reality.

All-day kindergarten is a worthy program that will benefit our community's children and families. Let's find a way to fund it without charging families additional money.

Comments

Ms_E_Bronte 6 years, 7 months ago

Doesn't the SSSD also benefit from ALL the 1/2 cent sales tax revenue being imposed in Steamboat (and not sharing with Soroco or Hayden -- who both have full day kindergartens and do not charge the parents extra)...??

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untamedShrewd 6 years, 7 months ago

Kudos to the paper's editorial board! Our district is pretty well off that it can afford paying the all-day kindergarten. No child left behind, right? Come to think of it, the 2007 annual report for the school district indicates that 66 percent of the general fund revenues are generated from property taxes. And 84 percent of expenditures goes towards salaries and benefits. Now with tax time rounding the corner...I do recall that property taxes have increased 29 percent this year. So why not use some of that extra cash to support all-day kindergarten. Let's not penny pinch the pockets of families for what all children should have an equal right to...Education.

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Carrie Requist 6 years, 7 months ago

The budget for the '08-'09 school year has already been set and does not include full day K. It would be irresponsible of the board to try to push all day K funding for '08-'09 in at this point. If the state funding does not come through for full day K for '09-'10, I would like to see the board re-visit all day K funding during that budget cycle.

As for the Ed Fund Board, you state that it is coming up for a renewal and not guaranteed to continue to be funded. Doesn't seem like a good idea to me to start a new program with money that might soon disappear. And for '08-'09, those funds have also already been allocated. Plus, you don't mention what could get un-funded by the Ed Fund money if full day K was to get funded. There are many programs funded by the Ed Fund money that benefit far more students than full day K does in any given year.

The community of parents with children who will be entering K in the new few years has made it very clear that they want both a full day AND a half day option. There are many parents who have said they do NOT want to send their 5 year olds for full day. Now, this may change once full day K has been implemented as has happened in other communities. If the district were to start by paying for full day K, this might complicate having a half day option to start with.

As for the $360,000 for the program, the SP&T reporter who was at the board meeting Monday night should have been able to tell you that Dale Mellor was very clear that he thought that estimate was low and may not have taken into account enough extra staff necessary (for example, it accounted for only one additional specials teacher at each school without investigation into how many additional specials teachers would actually be necessary). I find the information in this editorial about program costs to be misleading and inaccurate. Another way to look at the costs would be to assume that the other half of the day costs the same as the first half of the day and add up the other half of the per student funding (the half the state currently does not pay). I believe the per pupil funding in 2007 was close to $7,250 for a full time student, so this would be $3,625 for the year divided by 180 school days is $20 per day or approx $454,000, not $360,000.

The board did vote to provide full day K for all who want it for the '09-'10 school year. I believe '08-'09 should be seen as a pilot program and that tuition-based is a very acceptable way to start the program and let the results and the community then decide if the full day K program deserves district funding.

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STEMBOATwannabe 6 years, 7 months ago

Full Day Kindergarten is Wonderful. Every effort should be made to have it as soon as posssible. It will also save $$ on transportation as Kindergarteners will ride to and from with all the other kids.

Full Day should be a prioity for the Steamboat board.

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 7 months ago

Do we have any specific examples of "perfectly legal" kindergaten tuition programs in public schools here in Colorado or elsewhere? What is their safety net policy for those unable to afford the tuition? What is their policy for not putting parents and children in an embarrassing situation asking for help? Implementing the program is not as simple as it may seem. Pre-school is an entirely different situation.

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 7 months ago

More than likely, in a public school setting, charging tuition for a full time kindergarten program with the potential for the exclusion of some children is challengable on legal grounds. The Steamboat Today is absolutely correct that a public school district must provide equal educational opportunities to all its students regardless of their socio-economic status. You can't put some children at an advantage or conversely a disadvatage over other children that are students of the same public school district. That's the reason we call it public education. Charging tuition would also be very hard to defend given the plethora of research supporting the benefits of full day kindergarten for children of all socio-economic levels.

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Carrie Requist 6 years, 7 months ago

Charging tuition for programs beyond what the state pays for is perfectly legal and done all the time in Colorado and elsewhere.

There are public schools in Colorado that charge for the extra 1/2 day of K (like SSSD is planning).

There are public schools in Colorado that have preschool and charge tuition for the 3 and 4 year olds to attend.

The state pays for 1/2 day Kindergarten and fullday 1st-12th grade.

As for lower socio-economic students - I did not once hear this program discussed without discussion of building scholarship/sliding-scale money into the tuition so that no child would be turned away becuase of inability to pay.

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Carrie Requist 6 years, 7 months ago

edskis - You can just Google Colorado Kindergarten and tuition and get many examples. Here are a few: http://www.acsd14.k12.co.us/index.asp?page=3c - Adams county charges $90 per week for full day K

http://www.fortcollinsweekly.com/article/20080203/NEWS/958796284/0/FRONTPAGE

As for preschool - you might feel like it is entirely different but legally it is not, the state only pays for 1/2 day Kindergarten, so ANY program outside of that (the other 1/2 day or preschool) is a choice program that the school can charge tuition for.

As for scholarships, most school districts use the CPKP (Colorado Preschool and Kindergarten Program) guidelines to determine eligibility and that is what our board discussed using also.

I am not saying that the program should be tuition-based, just that there is not illegal and there are no grounds to challenge it. Call the Colorado Department of Education and discuss it fyou want to.

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handyman 6 years, 7 months ago

Non-scientific poll here: I am curious to know how many of these future kindergarteners (sp?) stay home with a parent now? How do Steamboaters feel about young children staying home with a parent, or do you feel that the social interaction and education in a full day pre-school/daycare setting is just as important?

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 7 months ago

Carrie, Thank you for the info. I will check it out. Yes, I agree that pre-school can be tuition based. Sorry my wordsmithing was not clear. I am a supporter of full-day K. As I said, the research is clear. The issue I was raising was that in a public school tax supported environment all students must receive the same educational opportunites. Public schools tread on shaky grounds when they start charging fees for the curriculum.

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Carrie Requist 6 years, 7 months ago

The thing is edskis that I can't find any legal support for your statement "in a public school tax supported environment all students must receive the same educational opportunities."

The only thing I can find in the state constitution says "Section 2. Establishment and maintenance of public schools. The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twentyone years, may be educated gratuitously."

One thing that flies in the face of it is that every country receives a different amount of per pupil funding that is a formula based on property tax. I believe that because of this, Steamboat is above average for the state (last I knew it was about $7,500 per student (half of that per kindergartener). Telluride gets the most at over $11,000 per pupil. It does not work like this in all states. The idea behind using the property tax is to balance out cost of living, but I just don't believe that it does. Areas like ours with a high proportion of trophy vacation homes get more student funding than areas that don't have those types of properties.

Anyway, providing every student a free education does not seem to be the same as providing the same educational opportunities for all students (in a legal sense).

What people have fought legally (at both state and federal levels) is that every child is to receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE). The federal law is known as Public Law (P.L.) 102-119. Here is a definition - FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education)is the right of every American child. It means, simply, that all school-aged children (Kindergarten through age 21) must receive a free public education that meets their needs.

This has been used by groups that support special needs children, gifted children and charter school supporters all to argue that schools need to offer special services to a whole host of types of students.

It has been used successfully to have public funds used to pay for private school tuitions for children who were not getting an "appropriate" education in their local public school (I don't believe that has been the case in SSSD, but I don't know).

I guess one could legally argue that full day Kindergarten is the only appropriate education for 5 year olds in Steamboat/Colorado and sue SSSD or the Colorado Dept of Ed under FAPE, but I don't know if that argument would stand. If successful, then it would eliminate 1/2 day Kindergarten, a choice that many parents prefer. Of course you don't have to send your child to Kindy at all (even if it is free) as the state law will change in July to be that education is mandatory from age 6 (used to be age 7).

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 7 months ago

Carrie, Thanks. I guess we could go on for a graduate school semester on this. I'll leave it as is. Good discussion though.

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Carrie Requist 6 years, 7 months ago

As much as I have learned and been able to find out about this, there is equally as much that I don't know. It is interesting stuff although sometimes you learn stuff you would rather not know about how the system works. Glad you found it interesting.

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mominboat 6 years, 7 months ago

It isn't the education that gets me; it is the timing of all of this. It seems so rushed and hurried despite construction and space issues. So my stance may seem unfair to the parents who have children starting kindergarten for the 08-09 school year...what about the kids who are already in a crowded school and now will have to take music on the stage at SPE or kindergarten children at SCE going outside to walk to the building for restroom facilities?
I still say wait until 09-10 to take the time to plan it well and to look at the space needs of all elementary students in our district.

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