Backpacks and coats hang on a row of hooks.
The Calhan School District school serves upward of 400 preschool to 12th grade students. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

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.” 


Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat Colorado covering early childhood education. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Denver Post. She holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University...