Too Many Colorado Preschoolers Don’t Get a High-Quality Education; the Pandemic Made it Worse


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The COVID-19 pandemic set back state preschool enrollment and funding across the country, according to the 2020 edition of The State of Preschool Yearbook by the National Institute for Early  Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.  

Pre-pandemic, Colorado saw an increase in enrollment and  

inflation-adjusted spending, but program quality standards remained  too low and access was limited to too few children.  

Now is the time for a renewed commitment to high-quality pre-K  for all, beginning with those in the lowest income families.  Nationally, the report found that:  

∙ Growth in state-funded preschool was slowing before the  pandemic.  

∙ The pandemic imposed serious setbacks and reversed recent  progress.  

∙ Uneven progress among states is worsening inequality in  children’s access to high-quality preschool.  

∙ Most states spend too little per child to support high-quality,  full-day pre-K and few reach all their 3- and 4-year-olds.  


Met 4 of 10 quality standards benchmarks.  

Enrolled 22,936 children, an increase of 992  from 2018-19.  

Total state funding was $70,460,165, an increase  of $8,408,050 from 2018-19 (inflation adjusted).  

State spending-per-child was $3,072 compared to  $2,828 in 2018-19 (inflation adjusted).  

Colorado national rankings:  

∙ 27 in access for 4-year-olds  

∙ 12 in access for 3-year-olds  

∙ 38 in state spending per child 

“Colorado’s young children need bold action to raise quality standards and increase per child spending to a level that  will support high quality,” said Steven Barnett, Ph.D., NIEER’s founder and senior co-director.  

Nationwide, enrollment in state-funded preschool increased slightly in 2019-2020, but took a hit in 2020-2021 as  many programs closed or only offered virtual learning and parents were hesitant to send children to in-person school  during the pandemic.  

“Colorado must act now to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on young children and pre-K programs, get pre-K back  on track for next year, and recommit to long-term progress,” said Barnett. “The federal government should provide  support for, and states commit to, high-quality pre-K. While federal rescue and recovery dollars can help, a new  federal initiative NIEER has proposed could bring $101.1 million in federal support to Colorado for preschool during  the next four years.”  

Across the country the survey reveals bipartisan support for preschool with both “red” and “blue” states among the  nation’s leaders in high quality pre-K. That offers hope that the nation can move ahead to expand access to high quality pre-K more rapidly in the future.  

The 2020 State of Preschool Yearbook was supported with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Bill  and Melinda Gates Foundation. Cost modeling and funding analyses were supported with funding from the PNC  Foundation. For more information and detailed state-by-state profiles on quality, access, and funding, please visit  

The National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick,  NJ, supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research and the  translation of research to policy and practice. 

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