Colorado turns away thousands from preschool

DENVER — Thousands of Colorado children who qualify for free preschool won’t be going when classes start this month because of state budget shortfalls.

Though precise data isn’t kept on the number of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds who are denied access, The Denver Post reported today that preschool during the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year with state estimates, 17 percent of eligible 4-year-olds weren’t able to attend.

The Colorado Department of Education estimated that as many as 12,010 4-year-olds who were considered to be at-risk because of economic and social conditions had no preschool available to them.

State education officials said an increase of 3,200 slots this school year for children in preschool and kindergarten is expected to offer some relief but not enough.

“There’s unmet need out there in that there are kids who would benefit, that is kids who are needy and at-risk, who don’t currently have access to slots,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said.

The preschool funding shortfall is a major plank of a campaign to ask voters this fall to hike income taxes nearly $1 billion a year to fund education upgrades. If voters agree, the income cap would be removed so that all eligible children can have access to pre-kindergarten. The money would also be used to implement statewide full-day kindergarten, to enhance services for needy students and those learning English, among other changes.

At-risk children in Colorado who attend preschool perform better on the state’s standardized tests than children with similar backgrounds who do not attend preschool, according to a 2013 legislative report produced by the Colorado Department of Education. The report suggests that both groups fall below statewide averages, but the gap is greater for those who did not attend preschool.


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