DENVER (KDVR) — Following two separate lawsuits filed against the state over Colorado’s new universal preschool program, FOX31 heard from those who helped create the program for their reaction to the complaints.
Stakeholders who have worked on making universal preschool a reality in Colorado feel leaders and schools are forgetting an important aspect of the program in the middle of all the lawsuits: the children who were able to enroll in the program.
‘It is working for over 40,000 children’
Sue Renner, executive director of the David and Laura Merage Foundation, was a member of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission. The group had a subgroup devoted to the implementation of the state’s universal pre-K program.
Renner said she’s disappointed with how some community members are reacting to the program’s launch.
“The biggest misperception is that it’s not working, and it is working for over 40,000 children,” Renner said. “I think the focus on the glitches has been inappropriate. This is a new program, newly funded by the voters, for universal preschool. And any time you have a new program like this, there are going to be implementation challenges.”
Half day vs. full-day preschool
Some parents and providers have voiced frustration about the state providing free, half-day preschool rather than a free full-day option, an aspect Renner acknowledges should have been communicated better.
“For sure, there were missteps with communication, there are no questions about that. But overarching was the goodwill to try to make sure that any additional dollars out there can go to the most at-risk children. And I think what was miscommunicated was that it was as funds were available,” Renner said.
Renner said school districts had ample opportunity to weigh in on the enrollment process for the program, saying she is confused by their lawsuit against the state.
“For the school districts to come this late in the game and say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t fair to us’ — they were at those design tables. I personally sat on a committee with a school superintendent, so I know they had an opportunity to give input along the way. So that’s what disappoints me the most,” Renner said.
‘Tremendous interest’ in preschool
Other community groups, like Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, are urging Coloradans not to lose sight of the fact some kids are gaining an opportunity to go to preschool, which they wouldn’t have access to without the program.
FOX31 heard from Nicole Riehl, the group’s CEO.
“This year, we are seeing tremendous interest and enrollment numbers from families, and clearly, that is telling us that families both had a lot of interest and there was a lot of pent-up demand for families to access universal preschool,” Riehl said.
“So although we know that, in year one of implementing such a large and extraordinary program, there will definitely be opportunities for improvement, we also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is really responding well to families’ needs and what they had asked the state to design. And it’s largely been a really great success.”