Without additional state funding, Steamboat’s full-day kindergarten program likely to stay tuition based | SteamboatToday.com

Without additional state funding, Steamboat’s full-day kindergarten program likely to stay tuition based

Strawberry Park Elementary School kindergartner Alexander Craig works on a writing lesson in Hadley Nylen's class Monday. Without any additional funding from the state, Steamboat's full-day kindergarten program is likely to remain tuition-based.
John F. Russell

— Without any financial help from the state, the Steamboat Springs School District’s full-day kindergarten program likely is to continue to cost parents here for the foreseeable future.

Superintendent Brad Meeks on Monday night asked his school board if it would like the district to consider fully funding the program next school year. To do that, the district estimates it would cost about $311,000 to end the current tuition system that charges parents $2,400 a year.

"I think there’s a lot of merit to it," Meeks said about full-day kindergarten, adding that research shows that the extra half day of school is beneficial to a young student's education. "But obviously there’s a cost to it. It’s a matter of prioritization."

The School Board also strongly endorsed the program, but it didn’t signal any support for having the district fully fund it.

"I don’t see the district coming up with the $300,000," Board President Brian Kelly said after the meeting.

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Board member Robin Crossan said that with budget cuts still looming for the school district, any new funding for programs like full-day kindergarten may not be appropriate or financially feasible.

Board Member Denise Connelly said a request to fully fund the program should originate from the educators who now are crafting the budget proposals for the district’s two elementary schools where the kindergarten programs are based.

"It comes down to money," Connelly said. "We see the educational benefit (of full-day kindergarten) … but it should be on the table and part of the normal budget process."

Board members also questioned whether the end of a tuition system for parents in the public school district would spark an influx in enrollment from kids who currently are attending private schools.

"There are a lot of other factors we need to think about," Connelly said.

The board’s discussion of kindergarten in Steamboat attracted parents who would like to see the district fully fund the program as well as parents who said money could be better spent elsewhere.

A mother who said she utilizes the district’s half-day kindergarten program told the board she prefers teaching her child the other half of the day, and the district would be better served investing more money in programs that have children spending more time with their parents, not less.

But Scott Kemp, who has a son who will be in kindergarten next year, said the tuition-based kindergarten program is a burden for many parents.

"We can come up with the money somehow, but at some point it gets so burdensome for families to do this when it should be coming from another place," Kemp said. “You look at neighboring school districts in the state and they found a way to (fully fund their programs)."

The state of Colorado covers about 58 percent of each kindergartner's education, and districts are not required to have a full-day program.

While the public school districts in Steamboat and Hayden charge tuition for their full-day programs, the South Routt and Moffat County school districts do not and have elected to provide the funding they don’t get from the state.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is expected to soon introduce a major school finance bill that will seek to have the state fully fund kindergarten programs across the state.

Steamboat launched its full-day kindergarten program, which currently includes 137 students, in the 2008-09 school year.

But the tuition program has proven to be a struggle for some parents, and three years ago the district had to enlist a collection agency to recover $2,969 in unpaid tuition from several families who had kids in the program.

Administrative assistant Deb Ginesta said last month there were three kindergarteners this school year who had to be taken out of the full-day program because their parents were having troubling making the payments.

Recognizing the financial burden, many School Board members said Monday night they were open to discussing a potential scholarship fund that could help families who can’t afford the tuition.

They asked Meeks to come back with more information about the specific costs of the program and what the student-teacher ratios are in kindergarten classrooms.

Cost of full-day kindergarten to parents

Steamboat Springs School District: $13.75/day

Hayden School District: $8/day

South Routt School District: Free

Moffat County School District: Free

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