This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters
Gov. Jared Polis took office last year with an ambitious early childhood agenda. In addition to free statewide full-day kindergarten, he sought a major expansion of Colorado’s state-funded preschool program.
Now, everything from the state’s day-to-day priorities to its economic forecast has shifted, throwing the state’s preschool gains and plans for the future into question.
It’s a common storyline around the country right now, and national experts are worried that rollbacks in state-funded preschool seats and quality improvements will come at a time when more children than ever need strong early education programs.
W. Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the current and looming economic crisis pose considerable threat to state-funded pre-K.”
Asked about the likelihood of a new dedicated federal funding stream to protect public preschool enrollment and quality initiatives — one recommendation in a report released Wednesday by the research institute — Barnett didn’t sound particularly optimistic.
“Greater than zero is my best estimate,” he said. “The opportunity is to put some kind of set-aside in a larger pool [of money], whether it’s education dollars or human services dollars.”
In Colorado, where lawmakers are preparing for a budget hit of as much as $3 billion, the potential impact on recent early childhood gains is unclear.