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School Finance Reform Includes Help for Colorado Preschoolers

PHOTO: Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is the sponsor of legislation that would reform the state's education funding structure.
PHOTO: Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is the sponsor of legislation that would reform the state's education funding structure.
April 9, 2013

DENVER - School finance reform is one step closer to reality in Colorado. The state House is about to start debate on the Future School Finance Act, which passed the state Senate last week. It provides a funding mechanism for more-stable distribution of education dollars.

One specific thing the bill would do is help about 20,000 Colorado children get off the wait list and into preschool. Currently only a limited number of at-risk children eligible for the Colorado Preschool program are able to get the funding to actually attend.

According to bill sponsor Senator Mike Johnston, the new law would pay for half-day preschool for every at-risk child.

"They have incredible results," he declared. "The outcomes of the Colorado Preschool Program are probably the most powerful return on investment that the state makes right now, in terms of the growth we're seeing in the young people who come into this program."

There is a catch: Even if the bill passes, voters would still need to approve new taxes to increase the funding. But Johnston said the new funding structure would keep school revenue more consistent and equitable than the current system.

Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Clayton Early Learning, said they're frequently forced to turn away children because the current funding just isn't enough. She stated that simply increasing class sizes won't solve the problem.

"We know that children in this age range, three-, four-, five-year-olds before they go to kindergarten, benefit tremendously from one-on-one interactions with their teachers," Brantley said.

She said they currently have thirteen classrooms in their two schools, each with about 16 children and two to three teachers.

"We're talking about children who are starting way back from the starting line," Brantley said. "They need a lot of extra attention. They need a lot of extra help and nurturing. Their parents are very eager for them to do well in school."

The bill would provide for just a half day of preschool to eligible kids, but that could be increased to a full day by paring it with federal programs like Head Start.

The full bill is at statebillinfo.com.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO