Colorado could increase general preschool hours, per proposal

Inside Colorado’s Free Preschool Initiative

Any 4-year-olds who enroll in Colorado’s free preschool program next fall could be entitled to at least 15 hours a week of tuition-free classes, and some students could take double that when Colorado’s early childhood leaders next come up with a new proposal approved week.

Previously, state leaders had promised families just 10 hours of preschool per week – an amount many fear would not do much to help working parents who need longer hours of childcare. As well as increasing basic hours, the latest proposal also offers 30 hours of pre-school per week to a sizeable subset of 4-year-old pre-school children – for example those from lower-income families who are learning two languages ​​or who have a disability.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to offer all children the opportunity to attend a half-day pre-school program [for] those children who need that extra support most to get them into a full-time preschool program,” M. Michael Cooke, the state director for early childhood transition, said during a meeting with county officials Wednesday morning.

The proposed rules, which also include detailed information on how preschool funding will be divided, represent the latest step in the state’s preparations for launching universal preschool next fall Funded by a nicotine tax, it will replace the state’s smaller current preschool program and provide children with access to classrooms in public schools, private preschools, and home settings.

A state advisory committee will review the proposed rules Thursday afternoon, and a public comment session will be held on Monday. Lisa Roy, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, will then decide whether to approve the rules. It is possible that she could make changes based on the committee’s recommendations or her own judgement.

The state also announced this week how much it will pay providers for each preschooler they enroll next fall. It averages $6,040 per year for students attending 15 hours per week and $10,646 per year for students attending 30 hours per week. (Some 3-year-old preschoolers get 10 hours per week under the program, and providers pay $4,834 per year for them.)

These dollar amounts, which vary by location, are derived from a sophisticated formula that takes into account factors such as regional living expenses, labor costs, county poverty rates and costs associated with rural environments.

“We are very happy with the result,” said Cooke. “We believe this is a win-win for families and providers.”

One of the big questions about the formula’s payments is whether they will allow providers to pay preschool staff a living wage, as heads of state promised last winter. Currently, some preschool teachers, especially those working in private institutions, earn so little that they are entitled to public support.

In Colorado, the median wage for a preschool teacher is about $15.25 an hour.

The proposed rates are higher than what preschool providers would have received if the rates were tied to the K-12 school funding formula.

The proposed full-time average of $10,646 per preschooler is about $1,000 more than what schools average for each K-12 student. But preschool is inherently more expensive to run.

For example, the universal preschool program limits classes to 20 students and requires one staff member for every 10 students. In contrast, K-12 classrooms may have a single teacher for 30 or more students.

The answer to the living wage question remains unclear — in part because the state has released average funding per student, not more locally specific numbers. Additionally, it’s possible that preschool providers with mixed-age classrooms may only receive the rate for some children – diluting the power of universal preschool money to increase pay.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat covering early childhood and early literacy issues. Contact Ann at [email protected]