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Research has shown that the value of prekindergarten education for young learners is significant. Children who attend preK tend to enjoy greater success later in their academic careers and are statistically less likely to drop out of high school or be involved in juvenile crime.

Unfortunately, it has also been established that access to preK education is often tied to issues surrounding equity as children from resource-challenged households are often unable to access early learning opportunities. Children from more resourced households, meanwhile, are more easily able to enter kindergarten with a full year’s worth of formal learning experience under their belts, a trend that is detrimental to the achievement gap in education.

The Colorado Preschool Program (CPP), operated by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), was established to help provide access to state-funded preschool for children who potentially are in jeopardy of school failure. Nearly 30,000 funded positions a year are available to provide the opportunity for children to attend full- or half-day preschool through this program, which is administered by local school districts and their preschool advisory councils.

Colorado legislation has outlined eight risk factors that children must have to be eligible for the CPP, such as drug or alcohol abuse in the child’s family, frequent relocation by the child’s family to new residences, or having a parent under the age of 18. School districts have an option to expand these factors at the community level when they meet specific criteria, and stakeholders have expressed a desire to identify additional factors that meet the criteria. Fulfilling this desire is where REL Central comes into the picture.

As part of the Early Childhood Education Research Alliance, REL Central has provided support to the CDE to improve the application and review process for using additional factors in expanded eligibility. A particular focus of this work has been to build CDE and district capacity to use evidence-based data to support the addition of new risk factors. Furthermore, REL Central has provided training to CDE regional preschool specialists to help districts better evaluate factors that might place children at risk for potential school failure.

A byproduct of the partnership between REL Central and the CDE is an application rubric and comprehensive guide designed to help districts process the risk factors to determine if they meet requirements for expanded eligibility beyond those currently in legislation.

“Working with REL Central on this project greatly enhanced our capacity to make this process clear and understandable,” said Colorado Department of Education Preschool Director Heidi White. “These improvements extend beyond enhancing our internal capacity and provide a streamlined and improved set of resources that districts will use in considering, preparing, and submitting their materials.”

REL Central also developed a series of videos hosted on the CDE website to provide additional support to districts in their application efforts. Given the importance of preK to students’ success in later years, supporting access to quality preschool opportunities provided through the CPP will hopefully help narrow the achievement gap here in Colorado–a goal of everyone involved in the project.