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These applicants want to launch Colorado’s universal preschool program at the local level

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Early childhood councils, school districts and nonprofits are among the three dozen groups that have applied to participate Colorado Universal Preschool Program in local communities when the initiative starts next year.

There is one job application in 31 of the state’s 32 zones, which typically cover one to six counties. Douglas County, where both the school district and the health department have been affected by politics and leadership changes, is the only area that has had no challengers. State officials say additional groups may apply and that some zone boundaries may change.

The groups eventually selected as so-called local coordinating organizations will provide the infrastructure to carry out one of the tasks Gov. Jared Polis’ goals: offering 10 hours per week of free preschool for 4-year-olds statewide beginning in fall 2023. Coordinating organizations will also contribute to helping state officials achieve the priorities outlined in state law on preschool educationincluding ensuring easy access to families and ensuring the participation of both public and private preschools.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Early Childhood said state officials have not reviewed applications but hope to make a selection by mid-July. The application deadline was June 24, but the state is still accepting applications on a rolling basis, she said.

About two-thirds of applications come from early years councils, which are regional groups that offer training and other support to early childhood providers. Some employ only one person, while others employ several.

The state’s decision to invite such organizations to run universal preschools is a shift from Colorado’s current preschool program, which targets children from low-income families and other at-risk families. This program, which will end after the 2022-23 school year, is administered by school districts at the local level.

In many communities, school districts will be actively involved in public discussions about early childhood education, even if they are not the local coordinating organization.

For example, in Denver, the applicant is a non-profit group that provides assistance in the education of preschoolers – the Denver Preschool Program. But Ellen Brown, the organization’s chief operating officer, said a coalition of groups supported the bid and will continue to contribute, including the Denver School District, the city’s Office of Children’s Services and the Denver Early Childhood Council.

Brown said the Denver Preschool Program, which has a $24 million budget and currently works with 260 preschool providers in the city, is well positioned to take on a coordinating role.

In Adams County, which has parts of several school districts within its boundaries, Westminster Public Schools is the top applicant. Matt Aubuchon, the district’s executive director of instructional services, said a consortium of local groups partnered on the application.

If approved by the state, the Westminster district would act as the financial agent to pay for the preschool and manage the hiring of a principal for the job. A consortium that includes other school districts, a local early childhood education board and community preschool providers will create a seven- to eight-member board to oversee the new principal, Aubuchon said.

While most preschool coordinator applicants cover at least one county, there is one exception. It’s in Eagle County, where a local school district and a nonprofit group have jointly applied to establish universal preschool in just part of the county.

Shelly Smith, director of early childhood education for Eagle County, said the application excludes about 17% of Eagle County because the area is more geographically similar to a neighboring county and school district.

That small stretch of Eagle County would be covered by another pair of joint applicants that would oversee universal preschools in neighboring Lake, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

Smith said Eagle County Schools and the nonprofit Early Childhood Partners teamed up to submit the application because both currently offer some of what it would take to create universal preschool. She noted that the coordinating organizations should be ready for the fact that the universal preschool will be opened next year.

“I think families and providers, if it doesn’t start, they’re going to leave,” she said.

In Douglas County, an affluent area south of Denver, a storm of factors prevented it from claiming a local coordinating role, one local early childhood leader said.

Melissa Ingalls, chair of the county council’s early childhood executive committee, said creation of a new county health department after the dissolution of the previous department of three counties, disturbance in the Douglas County School Districtand the retirement this week of the board’s preschool director played a role.

“Our board is in a huge transition, as is our health department, and maybe the school district a little bit,” she said. “The [county] The Department of Social Services was unable to raise it themselves.’

Ingalls, who manages the county’s child care subsidy program, said she hopes Douglas County will be able to find an applicant for the local coordinating agency soon, possibly by late summer.

“We accept the governor’s new leadership, but we haven’t been able to find anyone who owns it.” she said.

State officials said the state will coordinate universal early childhood education in any community that does not have a local coordinating group.

Here is a list of applicants from local coordinating organizations.

  • El Paso County: Collaborative Initiatives for Youth and Families
  • Arapahoe County: Arapahoe County Council on Early Childhood Education
  • Archuleta, La Plata, Dolores, Montezuma Counties: San Juan BOSES
  • Delta, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel Counties: Bright Futures Early Childhood Council
  • Broomfield County: Broomfield Early Childhood Council
  • Chaffee County: Chaffee County Early Childhood Council
  • Cheyenne, Cowah and Lincoln Counties: Special Needs Preschool at Genoa-Hugo
  • Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties: Connections4Kids Early Childhood Council and Moffat County School District (joint application)
  • Custer County: Custer County School District and Custer County Children’s Board (joint application)
  • Denver: Denver Preschool Program
  • Summit County: Early Childhood Options and Summit County Government (joint application)
  • Yuma, Washington and Kit Carson Counties: Yuma, Washington and Kit Carson Parenting Council
  • Boulder County: Early Childhood Council of Boulder County
  • Larimer County: Larimer County Council on Early Childhood Education
  • Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick Counties: Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick Child Care Board
  • Alamosa, Conejos, Castillo, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties: San Luis Valley Early Childhood Care Council
  • Fremont County: ECHO Early Childhood Council & Family Center
  • Adams County: Westminster Public Schools
  • Elbert County: Elbert County Early Childhood Council
  • Routt County: First impressions of the Routt County Early Childhood Council
  • Grand and Jackson Counties: Big Start Early Childhood Council.
  • Gunnison and Hinsdale Counties: Gunnison-Hinsdale Early Childhood Council
  • Huerfano and Las Animas Counties: Huerfano-Las Animas County Board of Education
  • Mesa County: Board of the Partnership for Children and Families of Mesa County and Mesa County Department of Human Services (Joint Applicants)
  • Morgan County: Early Learning Enterprises
  • Weld County: United Way of Weld County
  • Pueblo, Bent, Otero, Crowley, Power and Baca Counties: Pueblo Community College Children’s First
  • Eagle River Valley: Eagle School District and Early Childhood Partners (Joint Applicants)
  • Eagle, Garfield, Lake and Pitkin Counties: Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Council and Mountain Valley Development Services (joint applicants.)
  • Teller and Park Counties: Teller Park Early Childhood Council
  • Clear Creek, Jefferson and Gilpin Counties: Bright Futures (This is not the same organization that applied in Delta, Montrose, Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel counties.)
  • Douglas County: No challengers

Anne Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood and early literacy issues. Contact Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

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