Colorado backtracks on full-time preschool for 11K kids with risk factors

Nikki Spasova expected her 4-year-old son to get free full-day classes through the state’s new universal preschool program since he’s still learning English.

But just two weeks before Kristian was set to start preschool, Spasova learned that wasn’t the case. Instead, the state program will cover just 15 hours of preschool, the same hours offered to Colorado children who don’t face barriers to success in school.

Colorado’s universal preschool plan called for children like Kristian to get up to 30 hours a week at no cost to their families, provided there was enough money. It turns out there isn’t.

In the final weeks before school starts, that shortfall triggered a provision in state law that tightened eligibility requirements so that only children who are low-income and have a second risk factor will receive full-day classes.

Instead of half of 4-year-olds being offered free full-time preschool, just 13% will.

Some of the affected children are learning English, like Kristian. Many more are from low-income families — and money for additional child care subsidies is limited, too. Meanwhile, the state is sticking to its plan to offer 15 tuition-free hours to all 4-year-olds, even those from well-to-do families — more hours than required by state law.

“To cut back on the ones who really need it does not feel fair,” said Jean Doolittle, the owner of Southglenn Montessori Preschool in Centennial where Kristian is enrolled. “Instead of taking a little bit from everybody, they took a lot from those who need it most.”

The decision illustrates the trade-off Colorado leaders made in designing the new preschool program, which launches this month. Many early childhood advocates cheered Colorado’s move from a preschool program that targets certain kids to one that’s open to all 4-year-olds, but as the program rolls out, some providers are concerned the universal model shortchanges children facing the toughest odds.

Read more from our partners at Chalkbeat Colorado.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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