Governor touts preschool expansion during Littleton visit

Polis stumps for early childhood ed in Littleton, but funding concerns remain


Gov. Jared Polis and two state lawmakers visited Littleton's Village Preschool on Jan. 17, touting the benefits of a proposed preschool expansion on the heels of a full-day kindergarten program rolled out this year.

Polis was joined by state Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, who sits on the state Senate's Education Committee, and state Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood.

Polis is seeking $27.6 million in his 2020-21 budget request to add 6,000 new slots to the Colorado Preschool Program, according to Chalkbeat.

“Every kid should be able to go to preschool,” Polis said. “It's an important part of their future success, and it saves taxpayer money — it lowers crime rates, rates of grade repetition and need for special education.”

Parents are eager to get their kids into preschool, said Kathleen Ambron, director of elementary education for LPS.

“The district phone is ringing off the wall about preschool,” Ambron said. “Parents know it's important, and teachers say kids who haven't been to preschool and kindergarten are behind those who have.”

The governor's visit came a day after the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education voted to pull $1 million out of district reserves to soften the blow of $4.2 million in budget cuts that will see 17 positions eliminated district-wide.

The cuts are driven in part by state money withheld from school districts since the Great Recession, according to a district news release. Some Littleton school board members said not to expect the Polis administration to make great strides toward paying down the so-called “negative factor” in school funding, as the governor's administration stays focused on expanding kindergarten and preschool access.

Polis said his administration has worked hard to pay down the negative factor as much as possible while ensuring young children have access to important resources.

“Education is our top funding priority,” Polis said. “We delivered record funding for public schools last year, and we look forward to continuing that.”

Bridges said while Colorado still needs substantial boosts of investment in public schools, preschool and kindergarten can make an outsize difference.

“When you talk about making sure we create a level playing field for kids, there's no better dollar we can spend than early childhood education,” Bridges said.

Froelich said the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and other state laws restrain Colorado education spending, but said proposed legislation to boost mill levy overrides could help pay down the negative factor.

“Our schools are doing amazing things with less and less, while we ask more and more of them,” Froelich said. “There are conversations moving about how to address this. I do think early childhood education pays off in the long run.”

Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert said preschool is a worthy investment.

“If you want to change the trajectory of a kid who comes from a difficult situation or poverty, getting them in preschool early is the best bang for your buck,” Ewert said.

Still, Ewert said he's concerned about how to pay for it all.

“Whatever we can do to further early childhood education, it can't be at the expense of K-12 education,” Ewert said. “There's only a limited pot of money, and if we start diluting that, it will destroy K-12. I applaud that early childhood is the big initiative, if the state can come up with ongoing money to pay for it. I think we'd better go slow to make sure we get it right.”


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