Polis Sets The Budget Line For Free Full-Day Kindergarten: $227 Million

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Gov. Jared Polis delivers his first State of the State address to the Colorado General Assembly Thursday Jan. 10 2019.
Photo: Polis State Of The State 3 HV 20190110
Gov. Jared Polis delivers his first State of the State address to the Colorado General Assembly Thursday Jan. 10 2019.

There’s now a dollar figure attached to one of Gov. Jared Polis’ biggest campaign pledges.

Colorado's new governor is asking state lawmakers for $227 million to fund “his top priority”: free full-day kindergarten throughout the state. He also wants to earmark another $26 million to help school districts implement it.

Polis outlined the details in a budget letter he submitted Tuesday to the Joint Budget Committee.

“It’s about time in Colorado that parents have full-day kindergarten. It has a positive effect on families, saving people money, on districts freeing up capital,” Polis said.

Currently the state gives districts money to cover half-day kindergarten. Many school districts do already offer it full-day, by charging parents tuition and/or moving money from other programs. So if the state starts picking up the tab they could shift that money elsewhere. Polis said an additional 13,000 children would get access to full-day Kindergarten under his plan, and 30,000 families would no longer pay for it. Polis proposes to fund it with next year’s budget surplus, stemming from higher than expected property tax values.

Carbondale Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, who sits on the bipartisan joint budget committee, said his party generally agrees “with the emphasis on kindergarten and early childhood.” But after Polis highlighted the issue during his State of the State address, Rankin wants more details.

“I heard a lot of focus on priorities, but not the budget that backs them up,” he said.

Rankin and other committee members will get a chance to ask questions during Polis’ formal budget presentation Wednesday, Jan. 16. Polis’ proposal serves as a starting point for negotiations because lawmakers ultimately craft and pass the budget. For the first time in four years Democrats are in control of both legislative chambers, meaning they also hold the majority on the powerful budget committee.

Highlights From Polis’ Budget Request

  • $227 million for full-day Kindergarten.
  • $1.8 million for 16 new staff positions and inspectors at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (state energy regulators).
  • $2 million to help pay for 8 weeks of paid parental leave for all state employees, with plans to get another $1 million in mostly federal funding for the program.
  • $1.3 million set aside to explore importing prescription drugs from Canada.
  • $30 million to continue investing in the state’s water plan to help reduce the impacts of current and future droughts.
  • $2 million to provide seed money for startup businesses in small rural communities.
  • $6.5 million for loan forgiveness for teachers who work in rural areas, replacing a grant program as Hickenlooper proposed.