DENVER (CBS4)– Lawmakers debated a bill that would fund free all-day kindergarten for students in Colorado. The measure has a $242 million price tag.

Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican representing Salida, said the state’s general fund has grown $3 billion over the past seven years and Colorado has the money.

“That money disappeared somewhere and it didn’t go to our roads and it didn’t go to educate our kids,” said Wilson.

Most school districts in Colorado already offer full-day kindergarten but the state only pays half the cost. Parents can pay up to $400 per child per month for the all-day class.

“The effect that this would have is state would fund its obligation for full-day kindergarten before it funds things such as preschool slots, which we tend to find money to fund preschool, which to me makes no sense whatsoever like putting on deodorant before you shower, it makes no sense,” said Wilson.

Wilson said it’s a matter of priorities.

“I fully contend that we spend dollars where it shouldn’t be spent, adding new programs before we actually fund what we should have been funding for decades,” said Wilson.

Kindergarten, First Day Of Kindergarten, Classroom, Back to School, Students, Teacher, Elementary School

(credit: ThinkStock)

Chelsea Henkel with Stand For Children said there’s no question that full-day kindergarten makes a difference, “We also know that the impact of fully-day kindergarten is not only academic- which is great- but there are behavioral and some emotional skills that children gain when they are in full-day kindergarten.”

No one testified against the bill but Wilson doesn’t think his bill will pass. He hopes it will raise awareness of the importance of that early learning.

“If we expect our educational system to get our students to where they all need to be, we’ve got to give them every opportunity to start the race at the same time,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s bill passed the House Education Committee but he said he believes it will die in appropriations. A bill that would have asked voters for permission to use TABOR refunds to pay for full-day kindergarten failed in the state Senate on Monday.

Eleven states in the U.S. fund full-day kindergarten.