By Scott Jacob
“I’m so glad my son can go to full-day kindergarten in our neighborhood now,” Ms. Garcia says, expressing her excitement. Last year as she looked ahead to making plans for her son to start kindergarten, the mom thought she would have to open enroll her son outside their neighborhood to get free full-day kindergarten.
A major complication was trying to figure out transportation to get him to one of the limited number of Jeffco schools that offered full-day kindergarten for free. Staying put at the neighborhood school posed its own problems. Ms. Garcia’s family works hard at low-paying jobs, and has very little extra money—certainly not enough to pay tuition costs. And though half-day kindergarten is free, the scheduling would make it hard to ensure her son was cared for while she earned a paycheck needed to help make ends meet.
Last year, only 40 out of nearly 100 Jeffco neighborhood elementary schools offered free full-day kindergarten to all students. The district was spending over $4 million a year to support these programs. All kindergarteners in those 40 schools received free full-day kindergarten regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, in neighborhoods where free full-day kindergarten was not offered, families like Ms. Garcia’s either drove their children out of the neighborhood to a school that offered free full-day kindergarten or paid for full-day kindergarten at their neighborhood school.
The Jeffco school board considered adding an additional $500,000 in 2014–15 to the free full-day kindergarten program, to increase the number of participating schools. The board decided not to expand the program and instead asked the staff to evaluate how to provide free full-day kindergarten for all families that qualified for free and reduced lunch. This decision kept the number of Jeffco schools that offer free full-day kindergarten at 40 in 2014–15.
As Ms. Garcia heard the news last year, she was worried that the Jeffco school board had stopped all funding for free full-day kindergarten. “The way I heard some moms talking, it sounded like the board was going to make everyone pay for full-day kindergarten,” she said. “So I was excited when I learned that my son would be able to stay right here in our neighborhood and go to full-day kindergarten for free this year.”
The school board’s rollout of student-based budgeting for all schools added extra funding to the budget of each elementary school that offers full-day kindergarten. As a result, all Jeffco families that qualify for free-and-reduced-lunch now have free access to this program.
“Looking back, I don’t see what all the fuss was about, it seems to me that the board was being fairer to families,” said Ms. Garcia. “Since all those of us who have the financial need now can choose to keep their kids at their neighborhood schools and send them to full-day kindergarten without having to pay, I believe we will see a lot more families participate.”
The school board’s thoughtful new policy, so dishonestly attacked by some groups, brightens the prospects for many Jeffco families seeking to get ahead.
“My son is excited to be able to go to school this year, and I am excited he will be able to go to kindergarten all day. He is such a smart boy. I just know he’s going to have a great time,” Ms. Garcia said.