On his first day as the Republican nominee for governor, Walker Stapleton agreed with a radio host when she said public preschool and full-day kindergarten programs, like Head Start, don’t work and “aren’t about learning” but rather are just “free day care.”

Stapleton’s assertion contradicts his previous position, made in a June 14 interview with Chalkbeat Colorado, that state preschool programs play an “instrumental role in getting students school-ready.”

Stapleton’s campaign didn’t return an email seeking clarification.

In the June 27 radio interview, KOA 850-AM’s Mandy Connell asserted that “this giant expenditure for preschool and full-day kindergarten, it’s not about learning, it’s about free day care.”

“Right,” responded Stapleton.

https://youtu.be/avwN2qNw8eI

CONNELL: I wanna ask [Democratic candidate for governor Jared Polis] about the Head Start study that the federal government did. It was a latitudinal multi-year study from 2000-2006; the results didn’t come out until 2013 or 2014. In it, the federal Government demonstrated that all the gains made by Head Start and Pre-K programs are completely gone by third grade– totally useless by third grade. And the kids that were not in Head Start from the same socio-economic conditions are on par with the kids that were in preschool. So this giant expenditure for preschool and full-day kindergarten, it’s not about learning, it’s about free day care.

STAPLETON: Right.

MANDY: I’d love to see you hammer that point and someone on your staff bullet point it. I’ve read that whole report. It’s online. They dropped it two days before Christmas. I think it was in 2013, because they didn’t want anyone to see it.

STAPLETON: Yeah.

MANDY: No one is questioning [Polis] on why we’re doing it if it doesn’t work.

STAPLETON: Right. Right.

In his interview with Chalkbeat, Stapleton said, “We need to increase access by making our dollars go further for state preschool programs through increasing local community engagement.”

Chalkbeat reported:

Question: Research indicates the importance of educating and socializing children at a young age, even from infancy. “How should Colorado make preschool more accessible to children from poor families? Should Colorado fully fund all-day kindergarten?”

Stapleton: “I would like to see more progress made in early childhood education in the state of Colorado. We need to increase access by making our dollars go further for state preschool programs through increasing local community engagement.

Preschool plays an instrumental role in getting students school-ready and closing the performance gap. But ultimately, it all starts in the home. I think we need to partner with allies in the non-profit and private sectors across the state to empower new parents with the tools they need to help their children succeed. This starts with an emphasis on engaging children, reading in the home, and promoting family values.”

The study apparently referenced by Connell indeed shows Head Start students’ academic gains fading by the third grade, but researchers acknowledge that those results were partly due to the structure of the study itself.   

[The study] found that Head Start had “potentially positive effects” on general reading achievement and “no discernible effects” on mathematics achievement and social-emotional development for 3-year-old and 4-year-old children.

“It doesn’t mean that Head Start is bad,” or ineffective, said Michael Lopez, an early childhood expert at Abt Associates, a research firm that conducted some of the What Works Clearinghouse research as a subcontractor. “My colleagues might shoot me. But I’m not sure everyone is in agreement that the only way to assess Head Start is through the most rigorous evaluations.”

“We do know that there’s a larger body of work that supports the benefits of early childhood education programs,” he added, citing four other studies…”

It’s unclear whether Stapleton reversed his support for public preschool programs during his interview with Connell or sometime during the prior two weeks.  An email request for comment to Stapleton’s campaign manager was not returned.