More than 17K families look to apply for universal preschool in new Colorado program’s first enrollment week

By: - January 23, 2023 2:00 pm

Across Colorado, there are just over 60,000 children eligible for the state's new universal preschool program, and administrators expect it will serve just over 50% of this population. (Eli Imadali for Colorado Newsline)

With enrollment for Colorado’s new universal preschool program open for just about a week now, thousands of families from every corner of the state are ready to participate.

Kicking off with the 2023-24 school year, children in the year before they enter kindergarten will all be eligible for half-day preschool, or 15 hours a week. Families with certain qualifying factors could be eligible for an additional 15 hours.

As of Jan. 23, 14,812 Coloradans submitted applications while another 2,379 are still in progress, meaning so far a total of 17,191 parents are looking to enroll their kids in universal preschool.

Dawn Odean, director of the state’s universal preschool program, said it has been “absolutely incredible” to see so many applications coming in. Across the state, there are just over 60,000 children eligible for the program, Odeon said, and she expects it will serve just over 50% of this population, though administrators are prepared in case it does reach full capacity.

“What we’re going to do is, between now and August, really be thoughtful about where there’s a need for more seats and how can we support local capacity and where there are wait lists for families, how we can support them in navigating and finding those seats,” Odean said.

While right now enrollment is the main focus, soon universal preschool staff with the state will start sorting through applications to match families to a service provider. When families fill out the program application, they choose their top five preferences for service providers in their area. Providers include home-based, community-based and school-based preschool settings.

It’s voluntary for service providers who want to participate in the state’s program, Odean said, and if a family doesn’t see their current provider or one that would work for them available when filling out the application, she encouraged them to contact the provider directly to see if they are interested in participating as the state continues to bring on more providers.

The first round of assignments will come to families from the state around March, but the application will remain open throughout the program year so families new to Colorado and those who move to a new area can find a provider. Odean said she expects administrators will get quicker at issuing assignments after this initial round.

“We’ve gotten really great responses from families and mainly questions around the actual programs itself or specific providers, so that’s exactly what we were hopeful for, kind of that level of engagement,” Odeon said. “We’ll continue to work forward so we’re ready for the kiddos in the classroom this fall.”

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.