The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

New Universal Preschool Program Falters

Colorado schools have been struggling with the implementation of the program due to a lack of state funding and communication
Wryn Duepre
A young child plays with a toy clock in class at the Journey Preschool, a preschool involved in the UPK government-funded program.

Universal Preschool (UPK), implemented for the first time this year, allows all Colorado families to apply for their children of eligible age to attend preschool for at least 15 hours a week for free. In the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) families can apply for up to 10 hours.

Several school districts, including the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD), are suing the state over issues with the program that include lack of funding and communication.

“[Funding] has been the biggest challenge because we didn’t know how much money we were going to get,” Brooke Cunningham, Assistant Director of Early Childhood Education (CCSD’s preschool program,) said.

In April 2022, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the UPK bill (HB 22-1295) into law.

At the time, English teacher Jenna Chapman cast her vote in support of the program, eager to promote accessible education and hoping to save money in the 2022-2023 school year when her daughter would be attending preschool. The bill passed and she applied for the program. She didn’t expect to feel guilty about it.

“I wish we could have said, ‘Okay, option to defer,’ and put it back in the pot,” Chapman said.

Families of students who are low income and have one other qualifying factor (which includes having a mandated accommodation, being homeless, being a multi-language learner, or living under foster care) could apply for up to 30 hours of free care under UPK. But due to limited funding, not all families who were promised additional hours can receive it.

Affected families who want their kids to remain in full-time preschool are left to figure out how to pay for the other 15 hours out of their own pockets. For families like Chapman’s, who benefit from the program but don’t depend on it, they might feel like they’re taking hours away from kids with more needs.

The unexpected changes arising from the lack of funding is one of the reasons six school districts in Colorado, including CCSD, are filing a lawsuit related to the rollout of UPK.

“Families have struggled to register for preschool and in many cases, families were not matched with appropriate or available preschool programs,” CCSD Superintendent Christopher Smith wrote in a letter sent to families on Aug. 8. “We are concerned the new Universal Preschool program prevents our district and others from serving students and families in the way they deserve and in a way that complies with state and federal law.”

Currently, the district doesn’t recieve information about students, such as if they have IEPs (Individualized Education Program for students who need special education) preventing them from offering them the special education services that are available to them.

“[UPK] is going really well,” Cunningham said. “We’re just afraid that we’re missing some kiddos and not offering them their [Special Education] services because the state won’t let us see the application.”

The Journey Preschool, a standalone site in CCSD, is one of three sites in the district which have intensive needs classrooms. While the preschool supports students not on IEPs, many do have IEPs. If students want to attend the Journey Preschool using UPK, they have to specifically request to be enrolled. This means the school hasn’t been able to reach as many special needs students as it can provide for.

Despite this challenge, Journey Preschool teacher Ileah Wylie has hope for the future of UPK.

“It’s just a different experience for all of us,” Wylie said. “It’s very new and it can be tricky… but overall the UPK is a good start for something amazing here in a couple years.”

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About the Contributors
Amanda Castillo-Lopez
Amanda Castillo-Lopez, News Editor
Hi! My name is Amanda, and I’m a senior at Creek this year. As the News Editor for the USJ, I've reported on many different events in our community and global circumstances that affect us. I've become particularly connected with and enlightened by a variety of people in my community through stories and interviews, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue expanding my writing skills and knowledge of the world around me through journalism.
Rue Minar
Rue Minar, Staff Writer
 I’m Rue and I'm a freshman. I love nature and track. Sadly I could not do cross country because it was too late for me to join. I also love horror movies and animals, but not bugs. I joined journalism because I want to inform white people about minorities.  
Wryn Duepre
Wryn Duepre, Chief Photographer
Hi, my name is Wryn and I am a senior! I am the Chief Photographer for the USJ and this is my second year doing so! I love writing, reading, and taking pictures. I am a freelance photographer in my spare time and I love teaching photography and creating impactful photos that tell stories!

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