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Colorado’s public preschool program was poised for growth. Will coronavirus derail everything?

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.

Calvin Moreno and Maria Flores-Rodriguez clean up after an activity in their preschool classroom at Shawsheen Elementary in Greeley on Thursday, December 12, 2019. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)

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.

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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.

Read the rest of the story here.