Our View: Steamboat Springs School District should commit to funding all-day kindergarten
March 5, 2013
By not committing to fund for all-day kindergarten, the Steamboat Springs School Board risks sending the message that the educational value of the program isn't worth ensuring that every eligible child has access to it. That's the wrong approach, and it's time district officials prioritize the school system's budget to make room for full-day kindergarten and its proven benefits for our community's youngest students.
During their meeting Monday night, School Board members seemed content to continue with the tuition-based model that has been in place since the district first offered all-day kindergarten in the 2008-09 school year. This year, parents of kindergarten students pay $2,400 in tuition.
The district says it would cost about $311,000 each year to fund the kindergarten program fully. In Colorado, the state provides 58 percent funding for kindergarten students, which is why some districts — as Steamboat did for many years — provide only half-day kindergarten for families. But many districts, Steamboat included, recognize the tremendous benefit a full-day kindergarten program offers young learners. It provides a structured learning environment and socialization skills for 5-year-olds, fundamental building blocks on which their next 12 years of schooling will be based.
There seems to be little dispute from School Board members about the benefit of all-day kindergarten; it's the cost that bugs them. It's the cost that bugs us, too. Our public education system, funded by taxpayers, is built on the premise of providing equal educational opportunities for all children. By charging tuition for all-day kindergarten, the Steamboat Springs School District is placing a significant obstacle in front of the families and children who stand to benefit the most from the program itself.
This year, 137 children are enrolled in all-day kindergarten. Three families had to take their children out of the program because they couldn't make the payments. It's unclear how many families — including the 20 students enrolled in the district's half-day kindergarten class — would register for all-day kindergarten if it were available to them at no cost. That's apparently a concern of the School Board's, some of whom wondered Monday how many parents would pull their kids out of private school programs and enroll them in the district's kindergarten program if it were free.
That's a backward approach for a public school system that should strive to offer as much core educational programming as possible for all children eligible to attend its schools. The Steamboat district doesn't seem to mind collecting per-pupil revenues from the state for students whose families live outside the district boundaries and take advantage of the open enrollment option.
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We think all-day kindergarten program is a core program, and we continue to think the Steamboat Springs School District needs to prioritize it from a budgetary perspective. It was disappointing to see the School Board not embrace the opportunity Monday to send a strong message about the program's overall value to public education and families of all financial means in our community. School Board members asked Superintendent Brad Meeks to gather more information to bring back to them at a future meeting. We hope the end result is the district moving forward with an all-out commitment to paying for a critical program.