Dec. 7—Boulder Valley's preschool program is moving from half days to full days in the fall as the school district restructures its offerings to work with the state's new universal preschool rules.
The district's plan is to offer a full school day of preschool on either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays, giving families two days totaling 15 tuition-free hours a week.
Fifteen schools —up from five providing extended preschool care this school year — will offer an additional two full days of tuition-based enrichment and an afternoon enrichment class on Wednesdays.
Eleven schools will offer two days of preschool, but no enrichment. Wednesday mornings will be used for staff collaboration. Another three Boulder schools won't have preschool, but will bus preschoolers to Boulder's Mapleton Early Learning, which will offer regular preschool and enrichment. For a full list of sites, go to bvsd.org/current-topics/colorado-universal-preschool-program.
Alarick Hentschel, left, Fiammetta Compureale and Cura Cerny look through books during preschool class at Creekside Elementary in Boulder on Dec. 6. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)"All the research shows how critical the early years are," said Kimberly Bloemen, Boulder Valley's early childhood education executive director. "This is an incredible opportunity. We will have preschool in almost all our elementary schools. Families can transition right into kindergarten."
In the last few years, she added, the district increasingly has heard from working families that the half-day preschool classes, with morning and afternoon sessions, wasn't a good option. As a result, preschool enrollment was declining, she said.
"We want to have programming that meets a family's needs," she said.
Interested families are asked to fill out an interest form so the district can share more information about enrollment and provide updates. Enrollment is expected to start Jan. 17, with families required to first enroll through a state portal and then through Boulder Valley.
The universal preschool program was established in a new state law approved in April that promises at least 10 hours of tuition-free preschool a week for all 4-year-olds starting in the fall of 2023. The law also created a new department to oversee universal preschool and other child development programs in Colorado. Funding is through a nicotine product tax.
Universal preschool participation is voluntary for both families and child care providers.
In November, with support from a state advisory council, the state increased tuition free preschool to up to 15 hours a week for all children in the year before they're eligible for kindergarten. Students must turn 4 by Oct. 1 to qualify.
Four year olds with at least one qualifying factor — those qualifying for special education services, who are low-income, who speak English as a second language, or who are homeless or in foster care — are eligible for up to 30 hours a week. Three year olds with a qualifying factor are eligible for 10 hours.
Children will continue to qualify for the state's Child Care Assistance Program, Head Start and local funding sources, which can be stacked on top of the 15 tuition free hours to help families who need it afford more care. In Boulder Valley's model, families can use the additional hours they qualify for to cover enrichment sessions.
The state in November also set the per student reimbursement rates for preschool providers. Rates vary depending on how much preschool is provided, as well as by region to account for differences that include the local cost of living and poverty levels.
If Boulder Valley had continued with its current 10-hour a week preschool model, Bloemen said, the state's reimbursement rate likely would have been too low to make it work financially. The rate is significantly higher — about $6,000 per student for Boulder County — when a provider offers 15 hours a week versus 10 hours.
Renee Williams, Boulder Valley's community schools executive director, said the district is hoping the change to a full-day model will make it easier to hire child care workers and directors. Another incentive will be free child care while they're working.
In January, Williams plans to hire for 10 to 15 full-time assistant supervisor positions. The district is looking for applicants who are early childhood teacher qualified and willing to work in the childcare program while they get the training they need to become director qualified. Then they will start the additional preschool enrichment classes in the fall.
Bloeman said both the regular preschool classes and the enrichment classes will focus on "play-based, high quality and joyful learning." The district will follow the same successful model it used before moving to full-day kindergarten, when families who wanted full-day kindergarten sent their children to tuition-based enrichment classes, she added.
"We're retooling it for preschool," she said.
Just as when the district moved to full-day kindergarten, she said, schools will help preschoolers who aren't ready for a full day with the transition. Children can attend for part of the day, then move to a full day when they're ready, she said.
"We really want families to know that yes, we will work with you," she said. "Really, we want to meet kids' needs."
In the neighboring St. Vrain Valley School District, spokeswoman Kerri McDermid said the district is waiting on final guidance from the state and the local coordinating organization to finalize its preschool plans for the fall. Universal preschool is coordinated locally by early childhood councils.
McDermid said the district is tentatively planning to start accepting preschool enrollment on Jan. 17 and will host an enrollment event at the Innovation Center and Spark! Discovery Preschool that day to help families with the new application process.