Nearly a decade ago, before the Great Recession and the negative factor, then-Gov. Bill Ritter and other policymakers had a grand plan to phase in state spending increases for expansion of preschool and full-day kindergarten.
Now, lawmakers find it increasingly difficult just to keep up with overall K-12 costs, and state support of full-day kindergarten seems a distant goal.
Colorado's educators have worked hard to expand kindergarten access. More than 75 percent of Colorado's 64,000 kindergartners attend full-day programs, according to 2016-17 enrollment figures from the Department of Education.
But it's a patchwork system. Some districts are able to pay for kindergarten from their general funds, some have earmarked tax override revenues to pay for it, others are able to shift state preschool support to kindergarten and some charge parents for it. And for many districts, the money spent on full-day kindergarten is money not spent on other programs.
For each kindergarten student, the state continues to provide just 58 percent of the money allocated for students in other grades.
Two lawmakers have continued to keep the issue before the legislature session after session, even though their efforts are largely symbolic.
Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida and Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood introduce similar bills every session, and the bills are defeated every session because lawmakers simply don't have enough revenue to pay for them.
Wilson likes to remind fellow lawmakers that a system that supports kindergartners at only 58 percent isn't a uniform system, as called for in the state constitution. This year his House Bill 17-1042 proposed a smaller bite of the apple and would have gradually raised kindergarten support to 66 percent. It passed the House Education Committee Monday, but its $42 million annual price tag will doom it later in the appropriations committee.
Kerr proposed a grander vision. His Senate Bill 17-029 would have submitted a funding proposal to voters that basically would have raised state spending caps. That would have allowed money that otherwise goes to tax refunds to be spent on full-day kindergarten and other education programs if money was left over.
That bill was killed Wednesday by the Republican-majority Senate State Affairs Committee.
"We had people from all over the state testifying in favor of this, and not one person testifying against," Kerr said after the vote. "I don't know if it's party politics. I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm disappointed that we didn't get a better result." BVSD staff testified in support of the bill.