Governor proposes state pre-K funding expansion, which could help Summit families
FRISCO — Gov. Jared Polis’ push to expand early childhood education in Colorado continued as the governor announced significantly expanding the Colorado Preschool Program, which provides half- and full-day school funding for Colorado children considered at-risk for school failure later in life.
The proposal aligns with the governor’s pledge to have universal preschool available for all Colorado’s 4-year-olds by the end of his first term in 2023.
Under the governor’s proposal, the program would add 6,000 slots to the roughly 30,000 slots currently funded by the Colorado General Assembly. Polis is seeking $27.6 million for the proposal, would his office said would be enough to serve half of Colorado’s estimated 80,000 3- to 4-year-olds considered eligible for the program. The program covers pre-K programs in school district settings, local child care centers, community preschools or Head Start programs.
As it stands today, the Colorado Preschool Program costs 122.5 million with $4,448 average funding per child in the program.
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Early childhood care is a particular concern in Summit County, which has a limited number of providers, and therefore classroom space, primarily due to the high cost of living. That also makes child care expensive for working families in Summit, where it can cost around $1,300 a month for each child.
That figure was provided by Summit County Early Childhood Options Executive Director Lucinda Burns, who said child care is usually among the top two or three expenses for the typical Summit family.
“It’s like paying rent,” Burns said, referring to Summit’s notoriously high cost of housing.
Early Childhood Options reported that 225, or more than 90% of estimated eligible 4-year-olds in the county, participate in some form of pre-K education or care. Of those kids, 39% are enrolled in Summit School District preschools, 5% are in family child care homes and 56% are in community-based child care centers.
As far as source of funding, 139 slots are fully or partially funded through the local Summit Pre-Kindergarten program, while the other 86 slots are funded by the state Colorado Preschool Program, the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, the federal Head Start program, private tuition or a combination.
Burns noted that prior to the Summit pre-K program — which was funded through the “Strong Future” ballot measure passed by county voters in 2018 — 75% of county pre-K tuition was privately paid by parents. Now, after implementation of the program, the percentage has dropped to 25%.
Burns said an expansion of the Colorado Preschool Program would theoretically help more families in Summit County access and pay for early childhood care. However, with a lack of information on how the expansion would be funded or a formula for eligibility, it is unclear how many Summit families would benefit from an expanded program.
If and when the expansion happens, the county still has to reckon with the immediate reality of a lack of slots for early child education. Burns said the county has about 300 infants and toddlers on waitlists along with 100 3- and 4-year-olds. Burns noted that many people on the waitlist are trying to get more days of pre-K and are not necessarily without care.
Burns also pointed out that one of the paradoxical downsides of having one of the lowest unemployment rates in Colorado is an increasing reliance on early childhood care or education. With almost every parent working to survive in Summit, they need somewhere for their children to be tended to during the day.
“The early childhood demand trend always goes up when unemployment goes down,” Burns said. “Most parents here are working outside of the home, and when most parents are working, the need for childhood care goes up.”
Aside from needing somewhere safe for their children to spend working hours, Burns said research has shown that early childhood care and education is also a critical investment in a child’s future.
“Research shows that for every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education, society gains up to $7.30 in economic returns over the long term,” Burns said. “In addition, the quality preschool and child care has a long-term positive effect on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development through kindergarten and beyond.”
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