GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Governor Jared Polis came down to the western slope on Tuesday to see how Colorado’s new free pre-k program is fairing on the Western Slope.

The studies show that early childhood education makes an enormous difference in student achievement.

Gov. Jared Polis

Governor Polis visited Heaven’s Little Steps Daycare where he read We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt to a class of children. Heaven’s Little Steps is one of many education organizations that are benefiting from the Universal Pre-K program that provides free preschool to kids in the year before they start kindergarten.

“Our enrollment has gone up,” Michelle Dunn, Director of Heaven’s Little Steps, told WesternSlopeNow. More than just enrollment, Dunn said the program has opened up grant opportunities that helped Heaven’s Little Steps remodel rooms, buy materials, and pay staff.

Dunn added she’s seen the Universal Pre-K program help out middle-class families the most, “There [are] programs out there for low income, but there [aren’t] programs out there for the medium income and those are the parents that need the help because that’s expensive. So now you’ve got lots of parents who go ‘Now I can get my child a quality education’.”

Little Steps to Heaven is one of many preschools Governor Polis has visited in the first year of the program, “From outdoor experimental to some that are inspired by faith to, of course, school districts, some of which have created earlier childhood centers.”

Even offering a potential solution for what to do about the now-vacant East Middle School building.

Jefferson County, Colorado, which is a declining enrollment district they closed down 14 schools. It’s a big district, but they reopened two as early childhood centers because of universal preschools [program].

Gov. Jared Polis