Colorado’s free preschool program has 19,000 families signed up with at least 15,000 more expected

A young boy kneels on a colorful carpet and rolls a Lego truck.
A boy plays at the recently renovated Y Academy Preschool in southwest Denver, one of hundreds of Colorado preschools that will offer universal preschool in the fall. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)

Nearly 19,000 Colorado families have accepted their children’s preschool matches for next fall when the state’s new universal preschool program launches. 

It’s the latest milestone in the sometimes chaotic journey toward one of Gov. Jared Polis’ signature priorities: tuition-free preschool for any 4-year-old whose family wants it. State officials expect more than 30,000 4-year-olds, which represents about half of Colorado kids that age, to participate in the program next year.

The state’s universal preschool program will be funded in part with a voter-approved nicotine tax and offered in school district classrooms, private child care centers, church-based preschools, and homes licensed by the state. Children will get 10 to 30 hours a week of tuition-free class time, depending on what schedules are available in their area and whether they come from lower-income families or have other risk factors. 

The 19,000 families that have accepted their preschool matches so far all applied for a universal preschool seat in the first round, which closed at the end of February. The second application window closes Wednesday at 5 p.m. It’s open to families who have not yet applied for universal preschool, families who applied in the first round but didn’t get matched with a provider, and families who declined their first round preschool match. 

More Colorado preschools have opted to participate in the universal program since the first application window closed, so there may be choices available now that weren’t available in January and February

Families who apply by Wednesday will learn their preschool matches on June 1 and must accept or decline them by June 8. Once families accept their matches, they fill out the standard enrollment paperwork required by their preschool. State officials expect 4-year-olds from about 15,000 additional families to be matched with preschools in the second round. 

After the second round closes, families can still apply for a universal preschool seat on a rolling basis.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org

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