(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Colorado Governor Jared Polis stopped by Colorado Springs on Tuesday afternoon to meet preschoolers at Jackson Elementary School in Colorado Springs School District 11.
“With the new free universal preschool program, every four-year-old in the state is able to go to preschool and there are over 4,500 kids in El Paso County that are now going to preschool, which is amazing,” Polis said. “Districts are seeing increases of 20, 30, 40%.”
Throughout the month of August, Governor Polis has traveled across the state to visit and greet students that are a part of the Universal Preschool (UPK) Colorado Program.
“When I’m in the classroom, I say, ‘this is the very first year in Colorado history that every four-year-old is able to go to preschool like you,’ and, you know, they all cheer because they want everybody else to be able to go to preschool, too,” said Polis.
A full list of UPK providers in Southern Colorado can be found online.
Leaders in District 11 and state leaders in the Colorado Department of Early Childhood gathered to see the work done to make UPK possible in Jackson Elementary School.
“Here at Jackson, they went from one classroom to two classrooms of preschoolers,” Polis said. “And they worked very hard to accommodate parents who want different models of preschool, half day, three-day, four-day, all the different kinds of preschool experiences, depending on your four-year-old, depending on your family, that you might want.”
Several school districts throughout the state have filed a lawsuit against state education officials, however, including Harrison School District 2 in El Paso County.
In the lawsuit, Harrison School District stated concerns about the UPK system affecting the district through “lost revenue, in increased administrative workloads, and diminished relationships with parents, students, and the community….”
In response to the lawsuit, Governor Polis said feedback from the community helps to address problems with the rollout and will help for the future of the program.
“Well, we’re certainly not going to let any lawsuits stop universal free preschool,” Polis said. “We want to continue to offer this to families and, of course, this is the first year. So, we’re very excited to hear from parents and schools and community providers about how we can offer even more and better functionality next year to make it a better experience.”
Another advocate for the program is Dr. Lisa Roy, who is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood. Roy stressed the importance of early childhood education in our state’s youth.
“What we know from research is literally that a child’s brain grows exponentially from birth to age five,” Roy said. “Over 90% of their brain matter actually happens and occurs during that time and kids are sponges, they are learning so much. They are literally born learning. And so any opportunities that we have to ensure that they have high quality preschool program experiences sets them on a trajectory for school success in life.”
In regard to the lawsuit, Roy said there is a need to address concerns of the community.
“We’re working very closely with the Department of Education and any school districts or our local coordinating organizations that have any issues, can contact us directly to get any issue resolved,” Roy said. “I think that’s important. We can’t fix something if we’re not aware of it.”
During the visit, the Governor played with students and read stories to preschoolers.
Polis expressed his gratitude for the work District 11 was able to do to accommodate students in providing early childhood education.
“If you’d asked me a year ago what my biggest worry was, it would be that we would have a lot of families that wanted it and lines and wait lists,” Polis said. “So, while not everybody got their first choice, there’s room for everybody in preschool. I particularly applaud District 11 for getting ahead of the curve. They knew the kids were coming. They bought the tiny chairs, they got their classrooms ready.”