Colorado will offer free universal preschool in 2023. What about Utah?


Starting in 2023, Colorado will pay 10 hours of preschool per week for every 4-year-old in the state, regardless of income.

Supporters say expanding access to early childhood education will help close achievement gaps earlier, and impact learners rebound from the pandemic and advance structural equity of Colorado’s public education system.

The initiative will be funded, in part, from proceeds of a nicotine tax hike approved by voters in 2020, which will triple state taxes on a pack of cigarettes to $ 2.64 by 2027, and impose new taxes and fees on smokeless tobacco and vaping products. It will also be funded by the state’s existing preschool program, which serves children with certain risk factors.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law legislation to launch a universal preschool initiative. Polis, a Democrat serving his first term, campaigned on a free preschool.

“There is no better investment than an investment in education and our kids,” said Polis in a KUSA-TV report.

Terri Mitchell, Canyons School District’s Early Childhood Administrator in Utah, said the proposal would give Colorado children access to high-quality instruction, which is as important as the nation’s emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children who will be 4 years old next year were toddlers when the pandemic began.

“Since the pandemic started, they have missed out on quite a few things. So, they missed out on social opportunities. They’ve missed out on experiences that they could have had with their families but things were locked down and shut down, ”Mitchell said.

They are a part of the learning community when they start a school.

“We’ve seen that even in the Canyons School District. We’ve had an increase in students who need it more emotionally and socially,” she said.

Mitchell said the benefits of early childhood education are well-documented, but it is highly important that families have an array of options that respect their individual needs. Some children may self-regulate at that age and it may be unrealistic to expect that they can handle a structured classroom setting.

“My question is, are we creating a problem for the elderly that is unsuccessful or are there other ways we can help him be successful?” Said Mitchell.

Colorado’s systemic approach

Colorado has adopted a systemic approach to early childhood education, said Anna Thomas, senior policy analyst for the nonprofit child advocacy program Voices for Utah Children.

Polis ’term in Earlier, the Colorado General Assembly expanded full-day kindergarten with state funding. Universal preschool was the next milestone in the plan, she said. The just-approved legislation also established a state Department of Early Childhood.

“We don’t have that systematic approach in Utah. We are still struggling to get our state leaders, leaders in the Legislature, to understand that in order to do well in first grade, lots of kids in the state need a lot of help in kindergarten. A half hour, ”Thomas said.

As part of its recent general session, the Utah Legislature approved an additional $ 12.2 million in ongoing appropriation with its full-day kindergarten offerings.

Presently, Utah public schools provide 30% of students access to full-day kindergarten, where 80% of students have access to full-day programs. The Utah State Board of Education has raised $ 23 million in ongoing funding from lawmakers.

Some school districts choose to offer full-day kindergarten programs to support their own, cobbling local, state and federal funding and grants.

The Wasatch School District, for instance, has a full-day kindergarten since 2018. While some parents prefer the traditional half-day program for their children, now only a handful of parents ask for that option. The vast majority of the district’s kindergartners attend full days, according to Superintendent Paul Sweat.

A public opinion poll conducted by Voices for Utah Children for Higher Support for Public Preschool, too.

A statewide poll of 1,976 Utah voters found last summer that K-12 schooling is not enough for children, but 70% would enroll their children in public preschool if they had the opportunity. Meanwhile, 66% of children with past preschool age said they would do well.

A whopping 90% of people polled see pre-kindergarten programs as beneficial, with 51% saying they are very beneficial and 39% saying they are somewhat beneficial. The Y2 Analytics poll’s margin of error is plus-minus 2.2 percentage points.

Thomas said it makes her “really, really happy for kids and families in Colorado that are going to benefit” from the state’s early learning initiative.

“I think Colorado is going to go down the line, you know, in 20, 30, 40 years, but their state will reap the benefits of having kids who have that kind of support early on. I am excited to see what they do and how they get this established and work out the kinks, ”she said.

Canyons District in Preschool

Canyons District offers preschool programs in 22 classrooms spread across 12 schools. Some 900 children ages 3-5 are enrolled and families have the option of sending their children two days a week or four days a week. Each class lasts 2.5 hours and morning and afternoon sessions. Children may only attend 2.5 hours a day and the program follows the same academic calendar as the district’s K-12 schools.

The district provides preschool services to children with disabilities and those who live in Title I at no charge. Other families can elect to attend preschool and are assessed tuition, which starts at $ 100 a week for two days.

All classes are a mix of students with and without disabilities, which Mitchell said benefits all learners.

“Our students who pay for tuition are wonderful role models, social models and language models with our students. They are students for learning empathy… who are different, right? They learn how to be protectors or warriors for those who have disabilities. I really think it builds a culture of inclusion, ”she said.

In theory, Colorado’s preschoolers should benefit from a universal tuition program, but maintaining a stable workforce of educators and aides in the preschool segment poses challenges.

Most of the teachers leading Canyons District preschool classes are licensed teachers, which means they receive salaries and benefits. Many of the teachers were paraprofessional Mitchell convinced to complete college degrees and become teachers. “We kind of grew up with our own,” she said, noting there are fewer turnover licensed teachers.

merlin_2920501.jpg

Preschool paraprofessional Ana Suastequi, left, plays with students at Sandy Elementary on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Laura Seitz,

Butthe classroom assistants, it has been difficult to maintain sufficient staff and at times, Mitchell has been pressed to fill in classrooms this school year. It’s a problem statewide, she said, explaining that multiple school districts in Utah offer some form of preschool program.

The labor shortage may impact Colorado’s plans to offer preschool services to every 4-year-old, but Mitchell credits Colorado officials for the value of early childhood education.

“I think it’s great that Colorado has figured out a way to provide families. I think that’s awesome. I think it could really benefit kids, ”she said.

The Utah Legislature Funds a home-based educational technology program, Waterford Upstart, to develop school readiness skills for preschool children. It’s free to Utah families and the vendor can provide laptops and internet connections to qualifying students.

Upstart is an excellent learning tool for kids, “but it’s not a preschool, and it’s not a substitute for preschool. It can be a supplement. This is a great family thing where parents can work with their kids and help them learn. It’s not preschool, just simply no, ”Thomas said.

If Utah is serious about investing in children, it would say yes to a whole array of programs and services such as upstart, preschool and full-day kindergarten and “not ‘let’s pick the least investment that we can and hopefully do the trick.” ”

Gov. Spencer Cox’s 2022 State of the State address proposed a new office for bolster families to ensure that “government policies are not harming families and that we are coordinating government services to help parents and children succeed,” he said.

Thomas said she’s yet to hear any follow-up to the proposal and how it would fit into early childhood education.

“I haven’t seen any indication from the governor’s office or the Legislature that they are really serious about investing in young children, their education and their health in order to make sure that 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the line.” line that Utah families have what they need to be happy and successful.

“So we’re very happy for them (Colorado families) and kind of feel like, ‘Are we ever going to get there in Utah?'”



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