Preschool 4 All and the Private Provider

On December 11th a select group of ECEA members were invited to meet with Governor Jared Polis on the subject of universal preschool. At the meeting members had the opportunity to hear first hand the Governor’s plan for a state funded preschool program for all 4 year old children in Colorado. Members were able to ask questions, give feedback, and learn about future opportunities to participate in the design of this program.

Participants included board members and general members representing chain providers, franchises, and sole owners. Attendees had programs funded through Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Colorado Preschool Program Slots, as well as those with CCAP agreements and those who were 100% privately funded. All of these and more are likely to fear major changes in how they do business with the introduction of a universal preschool model giving free early childhood education to ALL 4 year old children. 

The governor gave a brief overview of why he believes that this model will solve an access problem many families have in finding quality education for their 4 year old’s and will improve student output in years to come. Some may argue that there is no reason for a universal preschool program in Colorado and that any issue in finding access to programs is more driven by a lack in workforce rather than a lack of funds or lack of government involvement. After all we have the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program which charges low income families on a sliding scale while paying centers and home child care providers based on attendance and quality rating. We also have federally funded Head Start and Early Head Start programs as well as state funded Colorado Preschool Program and ECare Slots for children experiencing risk factors. The idea that Colorado has an access issue due to funding seems unlikely given the listed government funding streams above but we will explore access, funding, and workforce in depth later as well as the potential motives for Universal Preschool Program; but for now it is a priority for the Governor and so we must see what impact such a plan will have on our industry and the children we serve. 

Key issues ECEA members had revolved around “How will this work?” and “How will I stay in business if this plan succeeds?”. Governor Polis and his Adviser, Scott Gorgisky ensure us (the private sector) again and again that this will be through a “mixed delivery system”. By this they mean that both public schools and private providers will be able to participate in this program, though the question on everyone’s mind is how would we make this work? 

Many questions were asked about who would be administering such a program. With no clear answer there are three possible options all with their own problems. 

Option one- Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Many private programs fear this as the outcome due to the failings of partnerships with school districts to participate in the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP). Gov. Polis’ response to this concern was in the form of a question, “Is it CDE that mishandled this or is it the local school district?”. 

A fair question if you ask me. Speaking with the Director of the Colorado Preschool Program, Heidi McCaslin, the Department does everything it can to encourage and remind districts that the law requires them to receive applications from community partners (private providers) though there is no requirement for them to actually accept any. Some districts are overt about their lack of willingness to work with the private sector such as Jefferson County School District who reported to McCaslin that no private centers are interested (members in these districts tell a very different story) while other districts such as Cherry Creek School District  accepts applications and “partners” with them without actually giving them any slots. Michelle Rutherford, CPP Coordinator for Cherry Creek Schools, say this is temporary and that once the private center has a “high enough quality” they will be given slots. This seems unlikely because CPP has been around since 1988 and Rutherford said they did not have any contracts with community providers for slots. So, Governor Polis, no, I do not know if this is the full fault of the CDE but it does make me nervous just the same. 

Option two for administering the new universal preschool program would be the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). At face value this seems to be a reasonable option. They already manage licensing for private providers and public providers and administer the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). Where this seems fairly reasonable there is concern about their brilliant ability to over complicate things, look at the wonder that is housing the ATS system for CCAP, the Quality Rating System, and the Professional Development System. And lets not over look the turn over rate and staffing issues in their licensing specialist, background unit, and so on. Maybe the complex bureaucracy that is CDHS isn’t the best option.

Speaking of bureaucracy, that leads us to option three- a new office. There isn’t too much to be said about this because there isn’t too much know about this potential office. Only questions stand. What would the cost of this new department be? Where would it be housed? How long would it take to create such an office? How would it engage with CDE and CDHS? Not to mention how would it engage with groups such as the Early Childhood Leadership Commission and local councils?

Past debates of who would administer a state funded universal preschool program are questions about how would it be funded? How would providers apply to participate? How would providers be compensated? How will this impact our already struggling infant and toddler programs? Who would be allowed to participate? How will quality be assessed? At present moment there just are not many concrete answers but as time goes on and details are created ECEA will be sure to keep you informed. 

Have questions? Join in the discussion. 

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