Our View: All-day kindergarten worthy of funding
February 7, 2012
Funding a full-day kindergarten program for Steamboat students would be an excellent use of Steamboat Springs Education Fund dollars, no matter what some School Board members seem to think. We hope Superintendent Brad Meeks moves forward with the funding request and that his board members ultimately support it if the Fund Board provides the estimated $240,000 it would cost to make all-day kindergarden tuition-free for local families next year.
Full-day kindergarten is beneficial to children and their families. It provides a structured learning environment and important social interaction for 5-year-olds, preparing them for success in the school years to follow.
While Steamboat has some exceptional day care facilities that provide similar experiences, they can be cost-prohibitive for many families. The recent 2011 Self Sufficiency Standard for Colorado report calculated by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy revealed that child care costs for a Routt County family of four increased by 35 percent from 2008 to 2011 — from $1,703 per month to $2,295.
Partly in response to the cost of child care, the Steamboat Springs School District began offering full-day kindergarten in 2008. Previously, only half-day kindergarten was available to families. Like most issues, it comes down to funding. The state of Colorado provides funding for school districts to provide half-day kindergarten programs. Districts must pick up the tab on anything beyond a half-day program. In Steamboat, families who opt to keep their kids in the full-day kindergarten program are billed $2,349 each year. Parents have the option to pay the full amount at the beginning of the school year or to pay it in monthly or quarterly installments.
Since the program's inception, the district has had issues collecting tuition money from some families. Two years ago, the district used a collection agency to recoup $2,969 in unpaid tuition from several families of all-day kindergarten students. The cost of the all-day program went up this year because the district had to hire another kindergarten teacher as a result of increased enrollment.
Meeks said using Fund Board dollars to eliminate tuition costs for participating families would level the playing field and make the kindergarten program economically equal for everyone. We agree. We pushed for the district to find a way to fund all-day kindergarten back when it first started the program. The public education system is predicated on providing fair and equal footing for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background.
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On Monday, some School Board members argued that funding all-day kindergarten shouldn't come at the expense of small class sizes or that it wouldn't be fair to some families if the Fund Board didn't continue to pay for all-day kindergarten in future years.
Those arguments aren't good enough. The benefits of all-day education programming for kindergartners is well-documented. Even if class sizes were impacted by all-day kindergarten funding — and there's no reason to believe they would be — studies are far less clear on the ideal class size versus having larger classes with higher-quality teachers.
Finally, there's no need to worry about whether the Fund Board would commit to more than one year of all-day kindergarten funding. If it gets funded this year, great. If it doesn't happen next year, so be it. We expect the Fund Board to make decisions on a year-to-year basis. And in this instance, it has a chance to fund a program that significantly could impact more than 150 Steamboat families. That seems like a great use of revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax for education.