Kindergarten mill levy in Steamboat Springs narrowly approved
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs residents appeared to narrowly show their support on Election Day for providing free, full-day kindergarten in 2017 and beyond.
According to Routt County election returns released at 10 p.m. Tuesday, the mill levy override to fund kindergarten was leading with 51 percent, or 4,870 votes, in favor, compared to about 49 percent, or 4,616 residents, opposed.
Campaign leader Chris Hamsher, a local attorney, was encouraged about what the results mean for next year’s kindergarten students attending the Steamboat Springs School District.
“I really picture a Tuesday in August of next summer, and there are little kids who are putting their backpacks on and walking into elementary schools for the first time,” Hamsher said. “And I feel proud to say that we, as a community, will not be charging 5-year-olds a fee to attend our public schools.”
The presumed victory puts an end to tuition payments for kindergarteners attending district schools.
Districts throughout Colorado receive only 58 percent of per-pupil funding for kindergarten students, leaving them to absorb the remaining 42 percent through other areas of the budget, charge tuition or offer only a half-day program.
For the current year, this means that, while the Steamboat Springs School District receives $7,400 for every first- through 12th-grade student, it only receives $4,300 for kindergarteners, a difference of $3,100.
Historically, the district charged $2,400 of the $3,100 in tuition and pulled the rest from the district’s general fund.
This year, the district absorbed more of the costs of the program into its general fund, charging $600 per student.
Many proponents of a free program, including Routt County United Way and First Impressions of Routt County, said even $600 was a hardship for many families, who might choose to keep their children home rather than paying tuition.
The new tax will vary each year and generate enough money to match the approximate number of students enrolled in kindergarten, generating about $530,000 in a year with 170 students.
Homeowners can expect to pay an additional $5 per $100,000 of assessed property value, while commercial property owners would pay an additional $18.50 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Hamsher said in Steamboat Springs and across Colorado, residents need to continue to tackle how to increase funding for public school students by whatever means possible.
“In Colorado, and Steamboat specifically, we need to grapple with these issues so that we can climb out of the very bottom of per-pupil spending in our nation,” he said. “We need to continue to talk about these issues as a community. I’m optimistic about the future of our schools,” Hamsher said.
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