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Expansion of pre-K is welcome, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the needs of infants and toddlers

The wave of support for pre-K is critical to improving education outcomes, but it should not come at the cost of equally crucial investments that start earlier in a child's life. Expansions in public pre-K enrollment have serious, largely unrecognized implications for families with infants and toddlers.

Caring for infants and toddlers is more intensive and expensive than caring for preschoolers. High-quality child-care programs require well trained, highly skilled teachers with the time and resources to maximize every interaction. While child-care subsidies are intended to help working families access care for infants and toddlers, they are not enough to cover the cost of high-quality care.

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Gov. Polis’ full-day kindergarten program could bust its budget by $40 million in first year

State lawmakers set aside $175 million from the general fund to cover operational costs related to full-day K in school districts, but that sum assumed an 85% attendance rate statewide. The legislature also agreed to use$25 millionin marijuana sales tax revenue for school districts to buy furniture and make other upgrades to accommodate full-day programs.

The CDE survey found that local school administrators instead project attendance statewide in full-day K will come in at 99% in the 2019-20 school year, based on attendance rates recorded in districts where full-day K is already the norm.

“That is going to have an impact,” said Jennifer Okes, the chief operating officer in the school finance division of the Colorado Department of Education. “It’s going to be big.”

The survey results show local school administrators believe the legislature’s assumptions for funding the program weren’t accurate, she added.

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