CDEC Announces Universal Preschool Quality Standards Informed by Community and Stakeholder Input

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Ian McKenzie |

CDEC Announces Universal Preschool Quality Standards Informed by Community and Stakeholder Input

Phased Approach Will Support Implementation

DENVER (April 2, 2024) – The Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) published the state’s  Universal Preschool Program Quality Standards today, in partnership with early childhood stakeholders throughout the state. With input from nearly 700 Colorado families, providers, school districts, early childhood councils, members of the workforce, the Rules Advisory Committee and more, the benchmarks balance 26 national and Colorado-based best-practices with the priorities of the state’s early childhood community.

“Our standards are about building bridges, not barriers,” said Dr. Lisa Roy, Executive Director of CDEC. “Colorado’s Universal Preschool Quality Standards improve quality for all children, and support multiple pathways towards better solutions to challenges across the early childhood sector.”

The standards build on decades of investments in early childhood care and education quality started by the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, and continued by organizations such as Colorado Shines, the Professional Development Information System (PDIS), and many others. The standards also fulfill the vision of the Legislature for high-quality preschool in a unique mixed delivery system through five key areas of early childhood education:  

  1. Basic Eligibility
  2. Teacher Quality and Workforce
  3. Instructional Practice
  4. Healthy Development
  5. Family and Community Engagement

Notably, new family and community engagement standards will take effect in the 2024-25 school year. In consideration of the recommendations made by the Rules Advisory Committee (RAC), the department has introduced a two-year phased approach for the other newly published standards, including educator-to-student ratios and professional development requirements for teachers and staff. This approach supports providers with a flexible timeline to implement new requirements, while continuing to serve their communities with high-quality programming.

To further support providers as they meet the Quality Standards rules, CDEC is developing a Universal Preschool Resource Bank. The resource bank will contain tools, templates, training materials, and more for these specific areas of the rules required in new Universal Preschool Quality Standards. The Universal Preschool Resource Bank will roll out in phases, aligning with the phased implementation of the rules. The first phase is expected to launch in Summer 2024.



How is the Department of Early Childhood elevating quality early childhood care and education across the state?

Colorado has been in a consistent process of review and adjustment to national education standards since the early 1990s, and, as a result, Colorado is regularly regarded as a national leader in the area of high-quality education. Due to this baseline, Colorado’s Universal Preschool Quality Standards complement the high level of quality currently found in classrooms across the state. Similar to the department’s current teacher qualifications and standards in the existing licensing rules, as well as the Colorado Shines Quality Improvement System (QRIS) and quality grants offered to support providers enhance quality in their programs, CDEC’s Universal Preschool Quality Standards are part of a collaborative and multi-pronged process to continue elevating the quality of early childhood care and education for years to come. The Legislature has been a key partner in supporting efforts to expand our quality work, by passing funding requests for new programs and continuous support to ensure a quality early childhood ecosystem in Colorado.

CDEC has also used numerous stimulus-funded strategies to leverage existing infrastructure and made critical investments to build the coaching, mentoring and early childhood mental health consultation capacity across Colorado. For more information on those strategies, please see Colorado Department of Early Childhood.

What is newly required of providers in the 2024-25 school year?

Effective July 1, 2024, participating providers will be required to create and make publicly available policies and procedures for fulfilling multiple family and community engagement requirements. They will also be required to notify families of the opportunity to participate in an annual survey of their experiences with family and community engagement in the program.

How will the Universal Preschool Quality Standards benefit families? Providers? The workforce?

The five key areas identified in the Universal Preschool Quality Standards benefit the early childhood community in cohesive ways.

  • Basic Eligibility: The standards ensure all families have an equal opportunity to enroll their child at a high-quality participating provider of their choice. They further ensure children eligible for specialized education via an Individualized Education Plan are afforded all their rights under applicable IDEA and ECEA law. The standards also balance these equity interests with the diversity of Colorado early education providers, and allow providers specific exceptions in order to serve their target communities best.  
  • Teacher Quality and Workforce: By advancing high-quality universal preschool instruction through teacher qualification pathway options and annual competency-specific training, the Universal Preschool Quality Standards help educators advance in their careers – and ensure the best education possible to all our young children now, and in the future. 
  • Instructional Practice: Participating providers will be able to utilize a Resource Bank containing tools, self-assessments, templates, training, and other information to support their development and use of high-quality curriculums for Colorado children. 
  • Healthy Development: Families will have access through their participating provider to free, voluntary developmental screening services (including vision, hearing, dental, and health as well as fine and gross motor, social-emotional, cognitive, and language); referrals for children and families seeking specialized services, upon request; and translation services for children and families to access information in their home language.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Starting in school year 2024-25, families will be able to give input to their providers on the priorities, interests, home routines, and cultural and social practices they value in their child’s education – ensuring their child’s education is linguistically and culturally relevant, and remains consistent between school and home.

Starting in 2025-26, the Universal Preschool Quality Standards require all teachers in a participating program to achieve an Early Childhood Professional Credential (ECPC) Level III. What is the ECPC system? Why should teachers attain higher credential levels? And what supports exist to help early childhood professionals achieve Level III?

Research shows teachers with greater credentials have more positive impact on children’s STEM outcomes, as well as those in reading. We also are committed to increasing teacher compensation and the accessibility of pathways toward higher qualifications as we increase qualification requirements. The Universal Preschool Quality Standards accomplish both of these objectives by supporting the professionalization and compensation of the early childhood workforce, through alignment of ECPC Level III pathway and the ECPC Tax Credit. The tax credit will save professionals with an ECPC Level III $1,705 in 2024. This amount will increase in 2025.

The ECPC system is one of three Colorado Shines Professional Development credentials, and is a system for all Colorado early childhood professionals to document and quantify their professional growth and accomplishments. More information about the ECPC credential; here are a few ECPC example scenarios.

As the Department works to support these new rules, it also has the flexibility to add additional trainings of special recognition and demonstrated competency tools, which we will be considering as part of the implementation supports. The Department has also shared several resources to support providers and professionals to achieve an ECPC Level III or a degree. These include:

The Quality Standards phase in lower classroom ratios over the next two years. Why has the Department decided to implement a 1:10 teacher-student ratio by 2026?

In reviewing national best practices as part of the more than year-long Universal Preschool Quality
Standards rule development process, a key finding was that lower ratios are associated with an
increase in positive child-caretaker interaction and in caretaker sensitivity, responsiveness, warmth, nurture, and encouragement towards the children, with more positive and less negative outcomes. Furthermore, a reduced adult/child ratio and group sizes are hypothesized to be associated with positive cognitive, behavioral, and socio-emotional child outcomes. For reference, here is the crosswalk of national best practices denoting class size and ratio researched and reviewed by the Department to develop this proposed rule.

CDEC respects the existing investments that many Universal Preschool providers have already made
in high-quality programming across the state, and honors the legacy of existing quality improvement programs, including the Colorado Shines Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). As a result, the Universal Preschool Quality Standards rules establish an exemption to the lower ratios for Universal Preschool Providers that are at a high-quality Colorado Shines QRIS level four (4) or five (5). Due to the phase-in timeline for lower ratios, Universal Preschool Program providers will have two years to increase their Colorado Shines QRIS level if they seek to maintain ratios at 1:12.

The Department has resources in place to support providers to increase their Colorado Shines QRIS level through the Early Childhood Councils. This includes Quality grants and program-level support from Quality Improvement Navigators and Coaches. Universal Preschool Program providers can learn more about these resources by connecting with their local Early Childhood Council or by clicking on the Quality Improvement (QI) Incentives on the Quality Improvement page of their program profile to learn more about the Early Childhood Council and quality improvement support available.

Additionally, the Department has committed to establishing a workforce of diverse qualified teachers. Learn more about our comprehensive early childhood workforce plan


The Colorado Department of Early Childhood ensures the delivery of a comprehensive, community-informed, data-driven, high-quality and equitable early childhood system that supports the care, education and well-being of all Colorado’s young children, their families and early childhood professionals in all settings.