When Gov. Jared Polis walked into the Stedman Elementary School auditorium behind a marching band on Tuesday afternoon, with dozens of supporters waving signs and cheering, the signing ceremony for the full-day kindergarten bill felt more like a pep rally.
“Today, we celebrate the fact that this fall, kids from across our state will be able to go to free fullday kindergarten,” Polis said to loud cheers before he signed the bill.
The kindergarten funding was Polis’ top legislative priority this session. Lawmakers from both parties ultimately agreed to spend $175 million to fund it.
Polis said the funding will prevent more students from repeating grades and save parents and school districts money.
“Families can save that money that would have gone to kindergarten, $300 or $400 a week, and use it for summer camps or start a college savings account,” Polis said. “This ceremony today represents the end result of an enormous amount of hard work from our legislators, from early childhood advocates, from educators, from community members. It took everyone working together to deliver kindergarten now for the children of Colorado.”
Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida was one of the lawmakers celebrating on-stage with the governor.
Wilson, a former school superintendent, has tried to get full-day kindergarten funding through the legislature for years.
He said he was excited when Polis told him “this year was the year.”
“I spoke to people and said ‘you’ve got three options,’” Wilson said. “You can either get on the kindergarten train, get out of the way or get run over. I don’t care which of the three options you’re going to take, but it’s going to happen.”
Wilson then led a train whistle cheer with the crowd.
Polis lobbied heavily for the funding during his first 100 days in office. He visited several elementary schools around the state to speak about the proposal and the importance of early childhood education.
But in March, the funding proposal was in a sort of limbo after lawmakers received revenue forecasts that were weaker than they were hoping for.
Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, said at the time that he was worried about committing to the kindergarten funding if the state might not be able to afford it forever.
But after getting assurances from the governor’s office that the funding was sustainable, a majority of lawmakers got behind the measure.
According to Polis, the additional kindergarten funding will also free up more than 5,000 preschool slots in the state.
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