Our view: Permanent kindergarten funding fix
The Steamboat Springs School Board will be deciding Monday whether or not to pursue a mill levy override to fund full-day kindergarten.
Board members should vote to place the measure on the November ballot.
For years, the Steamboat Springs Board of Education has been grappling with the issue of how to pay for full-day kindergarten.
Under the current school funding formula, the state only pays for a little more than half the cost of a full-day program, leaving districts with the choice of charging tuition or using money from the general fund to make up the difference.
Next year, kindergarten parents in Steamboat Springs will be asked to pay $600 in tuition if they want their child to attend kindergarten for the full day. Last school year, full-day kindergarten was covered through a special grant from the Education Fund Board, which ended up being a one-time fix, and in previous years, kindergarten tuition ran as much as $2,400 per student.
On Monday, the Steamboat Springs Board of Education will consider a permanent solution to the funding dilemma when it decides whether or not to pursue a mill levy override to fund full-day kindergarten. We urge board members to move forward with the proposal and vote to place the issue on the November ballot.
When the kindergarten mill levy override was debated at the school board’s July 13 meeting, board member Roger Good suggested the district consider placing a general operational mill levy override on the ballot rather than a specific levy for full-day kindergarten to give the district more discretion in how to spend the tax money.
We urge the school board to steer clear of that strategy and pursue a specific tax. Voters are much more inclined to approve a measure that specifies exactly how their tax money will be spent, especially if it is earmarked for a beneficial program such as full-day kindergarten.
Under state law, districts may choose to raise and expend local property tax revenue to pay for the kindergarten students the state finance formula does not cover. Currently, the formula funds kindergarten at 58 percent of the cost per student, which means the district must fund the remaining 42 percent.
The levy the district would be placing on the ballot in November would decrease automatically if the state increased its funding for kindergarten students, and if the state reaches full funding, the levy would not be assessed. The amount raised would fluctuate each year based on the number of students enrolled in kindergarten that year.
For the ballot question, the district would be required to submit a specific dollar amount that the levy would not exceed. That number would be based on the estimated kindergarten pupil count and an estimated per-pupil funding amount.
We also suggest the school board consider placing a five- or 10-year sunset on the mill levy override — a move that would make the tax even more palatable to voters this fall.
And, although, we support the district’s pursuit of this ballot issue, we would still like to see our state legislators use all the resources at their disposal to work on a statewide solution so funding is not handled district by district, which leads to disparity.
As we’ve pointed out in previous editorials, kindergarten lays the foundation for future success in school. It is the year when children learn to read and write and socialize with their peers, and studies have show that universal kindergarten can help narrow achievement gaps between children from minority and low-income families and families of greater means. In other words, it is disadvantaged communities and families that can benefit most from a full-day kindergarten program, and they are the ones that can least afford to pay for it.
When the school board debates the issue Monday, we also would encourage board members to specify how the district would reallocate the money in the general fund it had previously earmarked for kindergarten if the mill levy override passes. In our opinion, the money the district has been using to fund full-day kindergarten should be placed in a capital renewal fund and used to help finance deferred maintenance projects.
We applaud the school board for seeking a way to find a long-term solution for making all-day kindergarten free for all students. We support those efforts and hope community leaders will also get behind the ballot initiative as Election Day approaches.
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