State lawmakers grilled administrators of Colorado's Universal Pre-School program at a hearing at the State capitol.
The Legislature's Joint Budget Committee called the hearing. It approved $135 million for the program on top of $190 million from nicotine taxes approved by voters.
The state promised the money would cover up to 30 hours of free pre-school for all low-income kids but then backtracked at the 11th hour, leaving families scrambling.
Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer demanded to know why program administrators changed rules around who qualified at the eleventh hour, "two weeks before school starts you pulled the rug out from parents, school districts and private providers. It's not about the money - Governor I hope you're listening - it's not about the money. It's about you changing the factors, you changing the program, the application and everything two weeks before. I want know who thought that was a great idea."
Lisa Roy, executive director of the Department of Early Childhood Education blamed the late notice, in part, on school districts that she says requested more time to ensure kids with disabilities were appropriately placed, "what I have said... and you can look at any recording of me, anywhere... is that the 30 hours were dependent on funding. Half day pre-school to start the first year for almost 40,000 children is amazing... and again was it perfect? No. Were there times we could have gone faster? Yes. But I think we would have to back some things up because we want to make sure that we have enough funding for all the things that were promised for year one."
Six school districts ultimately sued the Governor saying they weren't given enough access to the state's online enrollment system - called Bridgecare - to ensure they were meeting their legal obligation students with disabilities.
Administrators say they are working on fixing that.
Bethany Ager, the Early Childhood Education coordinator for 27J Schools, wanted to know what steps they've taken, "I heard a lot vague responses... a lot of 'we want to, we know there's problems we're working on it.' But I didn't hear any tangible next steps which have does me concerned."
Administrators say they are meeting individually with school districts. But say there are privacy issues around giving them broader access to the online enrollment system.
Program administrators say they are meeting individually with school districts but say there are privacy issues around giving them broader access to the online enrollment system.
They also assured lawmakers they are responding to parents concerns about the difficulty navigating the system, but insist that more than 90% of families ended up with one of their top two choices of pre-schools this year.
Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, says while many questions remain, those in charge of the program are now on notice, "they are perfectly aware and now everybody knows that the Joint Budget Committee and state legislature are following, tracking these issues and that we expect results."
for more features.