Thousands more children living in poverty could get full-day pre-K under proposed rule

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Education bric-a-brac in a preschool classroom at the Jamaica Child Development Center on August 15, 2023.

An estimated 3,000 more children living in poverty could be newly eligible for full-day preschool next year under a new emergency rule proposed Thursday by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood.

The department says it hopes to establish the new full-day qualifying factor for “children living in poverty” beginning next school year. The move is based on feedback from families and providers.

“This rule would provide crucial support to Colorado’s most vulnerable populations,” said Lisa Roy, CDEC’s executive director. “Our department is committed to equity for all, and I’m proud of the responsive work we’ve done on feedback from this first year.”

When the universal preschool program launched this spring, families had to have a “qualifying factor” in order to get priority for 30 free hours of preschool instead of the 15 hours available to other families who make more money. Originally, those factors included children who came from low-income households, had a special education plan, were unhoused, in foster care, or were dual-language learners.

When demand surged and the state realized there wasn’t enough money to cover all families who qualified for full-day preschool, it changed the policy. Families had to be low income (making less than 270 percent of the federal poverty guidelines — about $81,000 for a family of four) and meet one of the other qualifying factors to get full-day care. Many families living in extreme poverty fell through the cracks.

The state still has the “low income” factor, but the new rule means families making at or less than 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (about $30,000 a year for a family of four) would be classified as “living in poverty” — and automatically qualify for the 30 free hours of preschool.

The state says it is able to cover the new costs based on new enrollment projections and state revenue forecasts. Officials say research shows high quality preschool is a powerful tool against poverty, with preschoolers going on to remedial programs half as often as those without access to preschool. Their grades and graduation rates are also much higher and they engage in less crime and earn more money as adults.

More than 40,000 children are enrolled in universal preschool for this school year in Colorado. It offers 15 tuition-free hours to all 4-year-olds and some 3-year-olds with risk factors.

The proposed rule is posted and open for public comment through the CDEC public notice webpage and the public comment form is available here. Public comment closes Nov. 22.