Universal Preschool – Hurting or Helping? [OPINION]


On March 31st, a district-wide email was sent out by CCSD. It unveiled a new program being implemented: Universal Preschool or UPK and Pre-School Enrichment. Promoted by Governor Polis, the idea of UPK is to provide free pre-kindergarten schooling. 

“It was such a great step for the kids, of course, but also for today’s workforce, for single moms, for families with two parents who work. It saves families money. It gives kids a strong start. It addresses educational inequities before they start, it helps identify the need for special education earlier,” Polis said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio, referring to the new program being implemented, called UPK, or Universal Pre-Kindergarten. 

UPK is a program with the goal of implementing free childcare and easing kids into the school environment. 

“Our students are immersed in a play-based environment where educators facilitate learning through the natural developmental stages,” Director of Early Childhood Education for CCSD, Stacy Peoples said. 

She stressed the importance of preschoolers gaining social, emotional, and motor skill confidence. They achieve this at UPK with everyday opportunities for children four and under. 

“Children develop cognitive skills and mature emotionally at UPK. Every day our students have opportunities to choose activities, try new things, and master basic skills,” Peoples said. “They develop their own personality as they discover their unique set of interests and gifts.”

On the surface, CCSD markets their form of Universal Preschool as a program that would greatly help families, despite their income. The program seems like a way to find a collaborative and educational environment for their children. 

However, the more you look into the official registration and guidelines, the program starts to be incomplete.

In reality, the so-called ‘Universal Preschool’ has some gaps. In this program, CCSD only provides a half day of school for free while the other half falls into a separate program called ‘Preschool Enrichment.’ 

“Enrichment is the second half of the day for students enrolled in Pre-K. It is tuition based so parents pay $400/month. Students are in school from 8:00am-2:45pm,” Peoples said.  “The second half of the day is designed to enrich the preschool experience.” 

There is a major flaw in the set-up of Universal Preschool and Preschool Enrichment, which is the undeniable fact that they are two separate programs.

While CCSD’s Universal Preschool aims to benefit the busy schedules of working parents as well as develop the minds of pre-kindergarten children, you can’t ignore that what CCSD does not implement any changes that make a substantial difference.

Without providing free care for the entire work day, parents no longer have the option of free childcare, as they have to pay tuition for the enrichment program. 

In response to this critique, Peoples stresses that kids do get lunch during the Enrichment program, which is not available during the free part of the child care program. 

“Students do get lunch and they have a rest time.  The schedule of the day basically repeats the above schedule with lunch and rest time in the middle of the day,” Peoples said.  “We do not introduce any new concepts, we just enhance the learning that takes place during the pre-K part of the day.”

Still, enforcing a tuition-based system where parents are essentially cornered into paying for a full day of childcare, along with the fact that no new subjects or skills are taught, is unfair to working households. 

In order for CCSD to claim free preschool childcare as free, they need to completely follow through. For CCSD to ask for $400/month for a program that was meant to be free is absurd.  

CCSD needs to ensure that all families, including those with full-time working parents can afford it all day. Parents desire for their children to have access to a free education that provides them with the education that they need should not ever be a stressful or high in cost commitment.