Chris Hamsher: Support full day kindergarten
October 21, 2016
Referendum 3C asks our community to support a small tax that will have a big impact. Your "yes" vote will secure full day kindergarten for every child in our local school district, covering Steamboat Springs and North Routt.
Any new tax deserves scrutiny. This one passes the test. Our community should support this practical and positive effort this election year.
Today's kids are not attending the kindergarten of yesteryear. In 2016, kindergarteners learn to read. They learn basic math concepts. They learn emotional and social skills. A full day creates time for kids to work in small groups. A full day makes time for specialists to help out. A full day allows time for constructive play and “brain breaks” — which is pretty important when you're teaching 5 year olds. With only half a day, a lot of important stuff can't happen.
Full-day kindergarten isn’t new or novel. It’s here to stay. There has been a steady upward trend. In 2014, 77 percent of our nation's children attended full day-kindergarten. The number is certainly higher now. It will continue to rise as we recognize the benefits of full-day kindergarten.
This is a specific request that will allow an enrollment-based mill levy override. This will add a small amount to our property taxes. The tax for a half-million dollar home will be about $25 per year. The tax on a half-million dollar commercial property will be about $89 per year.
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Colorado law requires that these funds must be used for full-day kindergarten. The tax can increase only if the number of students increases. So, the amount could increase to the $950,000 in the formal ballot language only if there were many, many more kids in our community. In that case, our population would be larger, and the tax would be spread to more people. If the state increases funding for full-day kindergarten, this tax must be reduced. If the state provides complete funding, this tax must be eliminated.
This issue is simple. The state funds each local kindergarten student at only 58 percent, leaving our schools to face a 42-percent gap. Every year for a decade, our school board has worked to fill the gap: moving money from the general fund, asking the Education Fund Board for assistance, raising and lowering the fee per child and combinations of each. The goal has been to reduce the fee we charge per child to attend our public schools. This fee has been as high as $2,400 and could increase to more than $3,100. This program has been offered for a decade. Funding should be stable. It just makes sense.
Critics of this effort may raise questions. They may ask why neighboring school districts can pay for full-day kindergarten. They may ask what will be done with any general fund savings. In Steamboat, we spend less per pupil than our neighboring school districts — far less than the national average. In Steamboat, our schools impose a much lower tax rate than our neighboring school districts — far below the state average.
Every school district has different strengths and challenges. Referendum 3C is a sensible and modest solution here. The amount of savings is small and must be wisely spent. These are the current realities. Our school board went directly to the voters to ask for this support. It is the definition of accountable and transparent to do things this way and not bundle this issue with other questions.
Our community can afford to support this important value: equal access to quality education for all children. Bright futures start early. Vote yes on 3C.