Five-year-olds are hard not to love. This month in Colorado, they begin the first year of all-day optional kindergarten. Congratulations to them, as they go out to get their backpacks and supplies this weekend.
Colorado voters elected Gov. Jared Polis on a platform that promised equality for kindergartners. He would ensure they have the opportunity to attend all-day public school, just as they attend first and second grades without financial obstacles.
“Rather than doing unfunded mandates, we were going to put a funded nonmandate in place,” Polis told us this week, explaining part of the philosophy behind his vision for the law.
“We’re just treating kindergartners like we fund first- and second-graders.”
The governor said 99% of the state’s districts plan to participate this fall.
Colorado parents and guardians have traditionally paid out of pocket for all-day kindergarten. For working class and low-income families, this typically meant no kindergarten.
“Kindergarten is every bit as important as first grade, if not more so,” said Polis, the father of two young children.
He persuaded the Legislature, receiving some resistance within his party, to fund the plan with about $200 million in extra general fund revenues.
A few politicians opposed directing this money toward families with young children, preferring to grow government. Nevertheless, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and by 53-11 in the House.
In a legislative session known for extreme left-wing overreach and more than 400 new laws — many of them awful — kindergarten equality serves as a silver lining. Society needs smart young kids. We cannot let anyone fall through the cracks at that age. At 5 or 6, the child is almost 7.
“Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man,” said Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
In the Academy 20 district, “free” kindergarten means a family saves $215 a month. District 38 families save $225 each month. District 11 offered “free” all-day kindergarten, but at a cost to the district of $5.7 million. The new law frees up $5.7 million for the struggling district to invest in better teacher pay, smaller classroom sizes or other benefits for students.
“For families, it means they have hundreds of dollars each month to start a business, or expand a house or use for any other purpose,” Polis said. “The money will circulate through the local economy.”
Seldom do we see a bipartisan political effort to assist constituents too young to vote or fund campaigns. Seldom do politicians try to cut expenses for young families contributing to the future by bringing up kids.
Congratulations to the class of 2032. Kindergartners unite. Take on the world and improve our future.
The Gazette Editorial Board