Op-Ed: Full-Day Kindergarten Is a Win for All Kids and Families

Before Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado legislature passed the bill to fund full-day kindergarten, not every child in Colorado was getting an equal opportunity to succeed. Some kids would get to have a full day of kindergarten, while others would only get a half-day. The families of those attending a full day would often have to pay out of pocket, leading to an achievement gap that endured long after elementary school.

As the mother of three, I’m so glad that free full-day kindergarten is finally on the way this fall — not just for my kids, but for every kid in Colorado.

One of the many benefits of full-day kindergarten is that the more time kids spend in the classroom at an early age, the easier it is to identify and treat special needs.

My nine-year-old daughter, Olivia, has high-frequency hearing loss that was only detected when she was screened for preschool. My four-year-old son, Max, qualifies to receive speech therapy through the public school he attends. My children benefit so much from the support they receive in school — support that allows them access to the same quality education and opportunities as their classmates.

That’s what free full-day kindergarten is all about: making sure every child has the opportunity to succeed from the earliest possible age.

I didn’t have the benefit of attending kindergarten; in fact, I didn't begin school until third grade. Fortunately for me, the aunt I lived with was an educator, and she helped prepare me for school, at least academically.

While I performed okay academically, I was not on par with my peers socially. I had missed out on three crucial years of interacting with children my age and learning to regulate my emotions. I felt the repercussions of this throughout my academic career and, to an extent, I feel the social repercussions to this day.

I grew up hearing that "education is the great equalizer," and I wanted to believe that. Unfortunately, education cannot afford everyone the same opportunities when there's such disparity in the quality of education that children from different backgrounds still receive.

That’s why free full-day kindergarten is so important. By making sure that every child has the same opportunity to receive a comprehensive, quality education from the time they enter school, we can stop the achievement gap before it starts.

It’s not just good for kids — it’s good for parents, too. Full-day kindergarten enables working parents to return to work sooner and contribute to the financial well-being of their families and communities, and helps families save money that might otherwise be going to tuition or child care. It means more money in the family budget to spend on school supplies, clothes, groceries and savings for college, which helps our economy as a whole.

My family was fortunate enough to send Olivia and Max to preschool, where they both received necessary intervention for their issues. Many families, however, haven't had that opportunity. Free full-day kindergarten will open up over 5,000 new preschool slots this year, meaning more kids like mine will get the interventions they need as early as possible so that they can thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Education has the potential to be the great equalizer, but we need to treat kids equally. Thanks to Governor Polis and the legislature fighting for our kids’ success, educational equality is closer to becoming a reality.

Leilani Siens of Denver is a mom of three children and a Stand for Children Parent Advocacy Fellow.

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