Currently, the school district spends nearly $5 million a year to provide free full-day kindergarten to all students in 40 Jeffco elementary schools. The program began in 2008
in 30 schools, and more schools have added free full-day kindergarten over the last six years. There was a request this year to continue the expansion at a cost of over $0.5 million, which would have brought the total investment to over $5.5 million a year.
Adding that together there has been roughly $20 million spent to provide free full-day kindergarten in about a third of Jeffco elementary schools. This year the school board asked if the investment was making a difference in student achievement, a question that had not been
answered the last two times the program was expanded.
Quite to everyone’s surprise, when the Jeffco data was actually provided it showed that in many cases the achievement scores of students were not different for students who had been in free full-day kindergarten versus those who had attended half-day kindergarten programs.
Jeffco charges families $300 a month for students to attend full-day kindergarten. In the 40 Jeffco schools with free-and-reduced lunch populations over 35 percent, the school
district is picking up the cost of providing the program free. All students in those 40 schools
are receiving free full-day kindergarten even if their family’s income is above the free-and-reduced level.
“In Jeffco, both free and reduced and non-free and non-reduced students receive free full-day kindergarten if they live in free full-day kindergarten if they live in the articulation area for (or choice into) one of the 40 elementary schools where it is offered,” writes Tom Coyne, a parent
who is on the Accountability Committee at Wheat Ridge High School on Jeffco’s Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. "Students whose family income level qualifies them for free-and-reduced lunch, but who don’t happen to go to one of those 40 schools, must pay for the program. If students don’t attend these schools, they do not receive full-day kindergarten.”
In surrounding districts, such as Cherry Creek and Denver Public Schools, families of students who are not eligible for free and reduced lunch must pay for full-day kindergarten. Tom concludes that Jeffco’s program design is much less efficient than that of Cherry Creek or Denver.
The Jeffco school board looked at the lack of consistent sustained academic improvement
combined with the unfair manner in which the services are provided and put the increase on
hold. The free full-day kindergarten continues to be offered in 40 Jeffco schools this year. The
board has indicated a desire to assure that all families who need assistance in accessing
free full-day kindergarten are offered that opportunity. In addition, the board has asked
central staff to evaluate what is working in the programs where there is sustained academic
performance to assure that all student have access to programs that work.