Gov. Jared Polis visited Fisher Early Learning Center in Denver on Aug. 15, 2023, as Colorado launched its newly expanded preschool program, supported by a voter-approved tax increase to cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products. (Erica Breunlin, The Colorado Sun)

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

Colorado’s proposed rules on preschool quality set a low bar, could hurt kids, and threaten to leave the state with one of the nation’s weakest public preschool programs, some experts say. 

The draft standards say class sizes will be governed by current licensing rules, which means preschools can have up to 24 4–year-olds in each classroom. The standards also don’t address what degrees or credentials teachers must have. These are among the red flags cited by leaders at the National Institute for Early Education Research, who reviewed the draft rules at Chalkbeat’s request. 

“It’s very difficult once you create a low-quality system to work your way out of that, because you create a constituency for it,” said W. Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the institute, which is housed at Rutgers University. 

Colorado’s proposed quality rules, which will take effect in fall 2024, are already coming too late for the first class of universal preschoolers — about 38,000 4-year-olds and 9,000 3-year-olds so far this fall. While some of those children may be in top-rated preschools that keep class sizes small, use strong curriculum, and employ highly qualified teachers, many are attending programs that meet only basic health and safety standards.

This runs counter to what state leaders promised after the passage of a nicotine tax in 2020 to help fund tuition-free preschool for 4-year-olds statewide. They said the new program would provide the kind of high-quality preschool that research shows has positive short- and long-term impacts on children. 

But now, it’s unclear whether the state will make good on that pledge — and if so, how long it will take. 

“In my opinion, this is stuff they should have been nailing down three years ago,” said Meg Franko, director of early childhood initiatives at the University of Denver’s Butler Institute for Families. “It’s frustrating that so much is happening at the last minute.”