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Colorado proposal increases universal preschool hours, sets per-child funding

Inside Colorado’s Free Preschool Initiative

All 4-year-olds who enroll in Colorado’s free preschool program next fall could be eligible for at least 15 hours a week of tuition-free lessons, and some students could be eligible for double that if the head of the Early Childhood Colorado approves a new proposal next week.

Previously, heads of state had promised families just 10 hours of pre-school education a week – an amount that many feared would do little to help working parents who need longer care to their children. In addition to increasing core hours, the latest proposal also gives a significant subset of 4-year-old preschoolers – those from low-income families, who are learning dual languages, or who have disabilities , for example – 30 hours per week of preschool.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to see all the children benefit from a half-day preschool program, and [for] children who need these extra supports the most, to get them into a full-day preschool program,” said Michael Cooke, the state’s director of early childhood transition during a meeting with county officials Wednesday morning.

The proposed rules, which also includes detailed information on the distribution of preschool funding, represent the latest stage in the wave of state preparations for the launch of universal preschool education next fall. Funded in part by a nicotine tax approved by votersthe new program will replace the state’s current smallest preschool program and give children access to tuition-free places in public school classrooms, private preschools and home-based facilities.

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 or not to approve the rules. She may be able to make changes based on the committee’s recommendations or her own judgment.

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

These dollar amounts, which vary by location, are derived from an elaborate formula that takes into account factors such as regional cost of living, staff costs, county poverty rates and costs associated with communities. rural.

“We’re very happy with where this came out,” Cooke said. “We think this is a win for families and for providers.”

One of the big questions about formula payments is whether they will allow providers pay preschool staff a living wage, as the Heads of State promised last winter. Currently, some preschool teachers, especially those working in private institutions, earn so little that they qualify for public assistance.

In Colorado, the median salary for preschool teachers is approximately $15.25 per hour.

The proposed rates are higher than what preschool service 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 receive on average for each K-12 student. But preschool is inherently more expensive to operate.

For example, under the universal preschool program, classes will be limited to 20 students and must have one staff member for every 10 students. In contrast, K-12 classes can have one teacher for 30 or more students.

The answer to the living wage question remains unclear, in part because the state has published average funding per student, not more locally specific numbers. Additionally, preschool providers who have mixed-age cohorts may only receive the fee for some children, diluting the power of universal preschool money to raise wages.

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

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