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Universal Preschool Program offers reduced tuition for child care

New state initiative seeks to help fund early childhood learning
Starting in 2023, the Colorado Department of Early Childhood will fund 10 hours of preschool education per week for all 4-year-old students. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Next year, 4-year-old preschool students in Durango School District 9-R may have some or all of their tuition covered through the Universal Preschool Program provided by Colorado Department of Early Childhood.

The program is slated to fund 10 hours per week of preschool education to students a year before they enter elementary school.

“We know that early childhood education has positive student outcomes, not only on the school readiness side, but positive outcomes on their entire life as they develop their love of learning,” said 9-R Early Childhood Programs Coordinator Jennifer Baufield.

The school district currently charges tuition for preschool but wants to make the switch to the universal program to alleviate child care costs in 2023. The state estimates it will save families an average of $4,300 per year on child care.

9-R offers full-day and half-day options for preschool students. Half-day preschool students attend four days a week for three hours and full-day students attend four days a week for seven hours.

Baufield said the district is not sure what the exact programming will look like but anticipates having a variety of full-day and half-day programs. Because full-day preschool options would exceed the weekly 10-hour allocation, she said parents would pay the difference in tuition to cover what is not funded by the state.

“We realize bringing a kid for 10 hours a week isn't going to meet some family’s needs,” she said. “But we'll do our best to kind of create programming that can kind of meet a wide range of families and their needs.”

Another funding option is through Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program. The program helps families that are homeless, working, searching for work or in school find low-income child care assistance.

Parents who qualify have at least one child under age 13 and have a family income less than 85% of the state median income.

Baufield said it can be challenging for parents to find quality child care in Durango.

“Hopefully, this will help that but it’s only for 4-year-olds,” she said. “There’s still going to be a challenge finding quality programs for infants, toddlers and 3-year-olds.”

The school district serves 200 preschool students throughout its elementary schools. Universal preschool funding will also be available at Durango Early Learning Center and the Campbell Child and Family Center at Fort Lewis College, which are not part of the 9-R district.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns from the state and so planning has been a little bit slow,” Baufield said. “We’re just excited to continue to offer high-quality programming to as many kids as we can.”

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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