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As state leaders prepare to launch Colorado’s free preschool program next fall, some educators and advocates fear young children with disabilities will lose out under the new system.
They say 3-year-olds could be rejected for a spot and 4-year-olds could receive less preschool than they’re due because of the narrow way the state asks about children with disabilities on its preschool application form.
In addition, school district officials say that unanswered questions about special education funding and confusion over how two state agencies will work together on the preschool program are a troubling sign for a major new program that will start in a matter of months.
While many early childhood advocates and providers have praised Colorado’s plan to significantly expand publicly funded preschool, there’s ongoing concern that the rollout is being rushed.
“I think the [Colorado Department of Early Childhood] was pushed into something very quickly,” said Callan Ware, executive director of student services in the Englewood district south of Denver.
Ashley Stephen, business services director for the Platte Canyon district, said she’s excited about universal preschool, but also nervous because communication from the state “so far has been a little bit harried and a little bit unclear.”
The 7-month-old Department of Early Childhood is responsible for running the new preschool program, with the Colorado Department of Education overseeing some aspects related to students with disabilities. The program will offer 10 to 15 hours a week of tuition-free preschool to 4-year-olds statewide, with some eligible for 30 hours. Some 3-year-olds will be eligible for 10 hours a week.