Our view: Keeping kindergarten free | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Keeping kindergarten free

At issue:

The Steamboat Springs School District has lowered tuition to $600 for full-day kindergarten.

Our view:

As a community, we need to find a way to ensure that this essential program is offered for free to all students.

For at least a decade, the Steamboat Today’s Editorial Board has advocated for tuition-free, all-day kindergarten for area students, and our stance hasn’t changed.

In April, upon learning the Steamboat Springs School District planned to drop its full-day kindergarten program only a year after instituting it with funding support from the Education Fund Board, we editorialized about our strong disappointment in the district’s decision. We asked the school board to consider re-examining its budget and finding a way to fully fund an all-day program.

We were glad to learn last week that the Steamboat Springs School Board had used funding from the Education Fund Board to reduce the cost of all-day kindergarten from the initial $750 proposed to $600 per child. In the past, the school district has charged as much as $2,400 tuition for the full-day program.

The school board took another positive step last week by voting to allow families to pay kindergarten tuition in monthly installments, which we think will help make the cost more manageable for young families with children who are struggling to make ends meet.

On Friday, the school board discussed the possibility of seeking a mill levy override to fund full-day kindergarten. This could be the solution the district has been looking for to solve this debate once and for all, but before we are ready to endorse the measure, we’ll await more information. This discussion definitely indicates the school board realizes the importance of providing a tuition-free, full-day kindergarten program, and we applaud them for exploring all options.

Under the revised tuition plan, which goes into effect for the 2016-17 school year, the district will pay for half-day kindergarten, which is funded by the state, and charge an additional $600 for the full-day program. Parents can opt to have their children attend a half-day of kindergarten if they can’t afford tuition.

We understand the school board has a goal of operating the district under a balanced budget, and we know cuts have to made in some areas to make that goal a reality, but we continue to believe all-day kindergarten is a necessity and not a program that should be placed on the chopping block.

In a community such as Steamboat Springs, which values education and is home to one of the best school districts in the state, we find it ludicrous that the school district has not come up with a permanent plan for fully funding all-day kindergarten. Instead, this discussion resurfaces year after year, and parents are left wondering whether or not they will have to come up with kindergarten tuition money in the fall.

According to education professionals, kindergarten plays an important role in a child’s formative education. The critical year provides a bridge from early childhood learning to more formal education, and it gives young students the start they need to be successful in school. During their kindergarten year, children learn reading and writing, and they also gain important social skills as they begin interacting with teachers and their fellow students in a structured environment.

Full-day kindergarten also has proven to narrow the education gap between children from minority and low-income families and those with greater financial means. It’s the less-advantaged kids that we’re most concerned about when it comes to having to pay for kindergarten. They could benefit most from a full-day program but they are most likely the ones whose families won’t be able to afford the extra $600 per year.

Again, in a progressive, caring community such as Steamboat, it’s difficult to accept that family wealth could determine a child’s educational opportunities. This needs to change, and we ask the school board to continue searching for ways to fully fund kindergarten, which many would consider to be the most impactful year of a child’s K-12 education.

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