Teacher Hannah Halferty leads her preschoolers in an activity at Shawsheen Elementary in Greeley on Thursday, December 12, 2019. (Valerie Mosley, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Surrounded by parents of preschoolers, early childhood teachers, and school district officials, Gov. Jared Polis didn’t have to make the case for universal preschool. Instead, they made it for him.

“Kids that come into kindergarten and haven’t been to preschool are behind,” said Kathleen Ambron, director of elementary education for Littleton Public Schools. “Our district phones are ringing off the walls right now with, ‘Tell me about preschool. Tell me about options.’ Parents know that it’s important.”

Polis visited Village for Early Childhood Education at North in Littleton on Friday afternoon to promote preschool expansion. The south suburban school system added 24 subsidized preschool spots this year, bringing the total to 250 districtwide. Those were just a few of the 5,000 new slots made available statewide as part of the rollout of full-day kindergarten.

That expansion was made possible by districts shifting money from kindergarten to preschool, now that Colorado is paying the full cost of kindergarten. This year, Polis is seeking $27.6 million to add 6,000 new slots to the Colorado Preschool Program, which would serve half of an estimated 80,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-old children. To participate in the program, children must have certain risk factors, with the most common one being living in poverty.

Polis has pledged that Colorado will have universal preschool access for 4-year-olds by the end of his first term in 2023. Asked to define that, Polis said, “Every kid should be able to go to preschool, and that’s an important part of their future success.” It doesn’t necessarily mean free preschool for all children.

“In Oklahoma, every kid can go to preschool,” he said. “It’s about time we caught up with Oklahoma.”

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...