DENVER — No legislative changes are coming for universal preschool next year, despite complaints from parents, school districts, preschool providers and even a lawsuit.
In its first year, universal preschool – 15 hours of state-funded preschool – has enrolled 37,090 students.
Under the Colorado Preschool Program last year, where parents went directly to school districts and community providers directly to enroll, there were 28,052 students.
This year, parents must go to the state’s universal preschool portal to apply for a spot. The new program has seen a 32% increase in enrollment compared to last year.
“I think that we should be celebrating these successes that we are seeing so far,” said State Rep. Emily Sirota (D-Denver).
Sirota sponsored the 2022 bill that created the universal preschool program and the Office of the Department of Early Childhood, which administers universal preschool. Voters, in 2020, approved Proposition EE, a nicotine and tobacco tax to fund universal preschool.
“One of the critical elements that was in Proposition EE is a mixed-delivery system that provides for family choice,” Sirota said.
That mixed-delivery system involves the state portal. One of the issues parents have faced is using the portal.
Some parents have matched with a school for their 4-year-old, only to not enroll in that school because that is a separate, independent step.
Taylor Kyner, in Thornton, had her child enrolled in an Adams 12 full-day preschool classroom for four days before the district realized there was a mistake in the class roster.
Her daughter was removed from the class and placed in a half-day classroom.
"I was hoping to just send her back to the classroom that she already knew,” Kyner said.
Alan Greening, another Adams 12 parent, found out his son’s full-day funding would not be covered by the state because the state did not have enough money. That notice came less than one month before school started. He had qualified because he is low-income, but the state changed the qualifications to include a second qualifying factor of having a student with an IEP (individualized education program), being homeless, a dual language learner or being in foster care.
"Why were the goalposts moved from where they were when we made the application?" Greening said.
“Certainly, that shouldn’t happen. And I do feel for all of the families and the providers and the districts who have encountered these problems in this rollout,” Sirota said.
Adams 12 decided it would cover the cost of Greening and 95 other families who thought they were getting full-day funding from the state because of being low-income, but ultimately were told they would not receive the funding.
“Yes, there have been bumps along the way, as I think there would be with any rollout of a statewide program like this that is being delivered locally by so many different providers,” Sirota said. “Sometimes you don’t know the glitches you’re going to encounter until you encounter them.”
In a statement from the Department of Early Childhood, a spokesman said:
“In Year 2, we plan on making all processes of universal preschool even easier. To that end, listening to partner feedback and doing discovery on best practices that work for everyone invested in the early childcare sector – from providers to families alike – has been part of our program delivery model since its inception. Equally and equitably involving all stakeholders in this process, keeping all options on table to best serve Colorado families and save them money is something we've always done, and will continue to do.”
The department can make rule and policy changes administratively. It appears those will be the only type of changes for the second year of universal preschool.
“I don’t think that we’re at any point where we say it’s broken before it’s even gotten off the ground because it actually is working quite well for many people,” Sirota said. “If it turns out that, yes, we need to change something in statute, we are here and ready to do that. Nothing’s been presented to me yet that suggests a legislative change.”
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