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OPINION: The Moment Is Here

Full-Time Kindergarten Critical For Our Youngest Learners

By Jennifer Spires

For the GPHN

As an educator, I know how critical high-quality early learning is to academic success. 

So, I took notice of Gov. Jared Polis’ campaign platform, specifically his position to support full-day kindergarten funding and his goal to provide access to quality early learning for all. From his State of the State address and budget proposal to the Joint Budget Committee, I’ve paid close attention. 

It’s no secret that children who enter elementary school having attended quality preschool and kindergarten programs are better prepared to learn, grow emotionally and socially, and reap the benefits of a classroom education. We know this from years of research on the subject. 

Recently, the Colorado State Board of Education adopted a resolution to support the governor’s plan. Board Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, in a statement about the supporting resolution, said: “We know that high-quality kindergarten programs can help us close opportunity and achievement gaps and ensure that all students have a strong foundation for success through their school years.” 

According to a study published by the Colorado-based Piton Foundation in 2006, children from low-income families in Denver increase their chances of reading on grade level when they attend high-quality, full-day kindergarten and preschool. When their only early learning experience is half-day kindergarten, children only have a 48 percent chance of reading on grade level. When they have access to full day kindergarten, their chances increase to 70 percent. Add in preschool and it increases to 74 percent.

Through my own teaching experience, I’ve seen how quality early learning affects children’s ability to learn. In addition to learning the fundamentals, they learn the routine of being in a classroom. They learn the behaviors expected of them in order to make the day productive. They learn how to regulate their emotions and how to interact with others. Children with special needs are often identified during this time and early interventions can begin to better support those children. As higher standards continue to creep down into the early grades, high-quality, full-day kindergarten is more important than ever.

Currently, many districts allocate resources or charge tuition to offer full-day kindergarten (up to $500 each month, a challenge for many of Colorado’s families). Unfortunately, some districts are unable to allocate resources and children miss out. 

Funding full-day kindergarten will provide all children with quality early education in Colorado. Additionally, the full-day kindergarten legislation that has been moving through the Colorado Legislature this year would free up approximately $77 million for school districts statewide to allocate to a number of other essential needs, such as intervention programs, capital improvements, teacher salary increases, and more. Families currently paying for full-day kindergarten or half-day after school care will see that money back in their pockets.

Securing full-day public kindergarten for all Colorado kids puts our children on a lifelong path toward success. It is good for our children, good for our families, and good for our state. 

I am excited that full-day kindergarten legislation has received strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate and will soon be signed into law by Gov. Polis. 

It has been inspirational to watch lawmakers come together to make full-day kindergarten a reality for all Colorado families. Join me in thanking Gov. Polis, the state representatives, and state senators for giving our kids the best chance to success in life – high quality early learning.

Jennifer Spires is the Colorado legislative leader for Save the Children Action Network and an early childhood education consultant. She lives in Park Hill.

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