Six years ago, the St. Vrain board decided to make early-childhood education a priority. The district got a $5 million grant, sold the idea to voters who approved a mill-levy override and got to work. Now, all 26 of St. Vrain's elementary schools offer preschool and full-day kindergarten, making it one of just a handful of districts in the state that can say that.

Last spring, as the first group of kids enrolled in those preschools started taking the state's all-important standardized tests, St. Vrain began to see the payoff.

"It does take a commitment, but now we are starting to see the benefit, and it's huge. We see it not just in test scores but in motor skills, in social skills. And the parents engage at a much earlier age and become much more invested," said Superintendent Don Haddad.

St. Vrain is experiencing something education experts and researchers have been preaching for decades: The earlier kids get into a learning environment, the better. St. Vrain leaders got the message years ago. And those early-childhood-education efforts came despite a multimillion-dollar budget crisis in 2002 caused by financial mismanagement that forced the state to step in and bail out the district.

Read more of Karen Auge's story in the Denver Post.