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Enrollment is beginning for Colorado’s universal preschool

Cristy Gomez helps students at the Teddy Bear Preschool in Dolores in April 2017. Registration will soon open for Colorado’s voter-approved program that gives free preschool instruction to thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds. (The Journal file)

Registration will soon open for Colorado’s voter-approved program that gives free preschool instruction to nearly 40,000 4-year-olds and about 10,000 3-year-olds.

There are some changes to the program for the next school year – aimed at streamlining the process, ensuring children in poverty get free full-day schooling, and making sure families with children already at a school get priority for siblings to join them.

When and where can I register?

Registration opens online on Thursday.

Who can register?

All children in their year before enrolling in kindergarten can register for up to 15 hours of instruction per week. If your child will be five on or before Oct. 1, 2024, they are not eligible for free preschool through UPK.

Many children may be eligible for up to 30 hours of instruction per week based on qualifying factors. That includes:

  • Household income
  • Ability to speak English
  • If they are eligible for special education
  • If they are in a foster home
  • Live with an unhoused family
What about 3-year-olds?

Low-income 3-year-olds and those with other qualifying factors are eligible for at least 10 free hours per week. However, this does not guarantee they will be enrolled.

Only 3-year-olds with special education plans are guaranteed enrollment according to their plan.

What are the qualifying factors that allow families free full-day preschool?

There is a new qualifying factor this year in addition to last year’s:

Children who live “in poverty,” defined as having a household income of less than 100% of the federal poverty guidelines, are newly eligible. That is $30,000 annually for a family of four.

In addition, children who are “low income” in families with a household income at or below 270% of the federal poverty guidelines ($81,000 a year for a family of four) and have one of the following qualifying factors also qualify for full-time hours:

  • The child speaks a language other than English at home
  • The child has an active Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • The child lives in foster care home or kinship care
  • Child is unhoused

You can contact your Local Coordinating Council in your county to ask questions about eligibility.

What if I need more than 15 hours of preschool each week?

If you qualify for a half-day free preschool but need full-day care, UPK Colorado will pay for the half-day.

Additional hours may be covered by Head Start, the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, or you can pay yourself, though the cost varies by provider.

Not every preschool offers 30 hours of instruction per week.

Which providers can I sign up with and how do I sign up?

You can browse providers online and choose from community-based providers, school-based programs, and licensed home providers. If you’re applying for a preschool program at a school, you may need to live in the school district. This year, more than 2,000 providers have applied to participate in the program for the 2024-25 school year, about 150 more than in the first year.

If you want to enroll your child in your school district’s preschool, you may also have to fill out a second application with the school district when the process opens.

This year, 3-year-olds with qualifying factors (except special education) won’t use the state’s system; they can enroll directly at their preschool of choice.

If you have a 3- or 4-year-old with a special education plan, you have two ways to apply:

  • Through a link sent to you by their school district
  • Logging into the family application with the parent’s email tied to their child’s IEP

The state stresses that families should contact their school district to ensure their child’s IEP status and preparation is complete.

What if I already have a child enrolled in a preschool? How can I make sure their sibling is enrolled at the same school?

Starting Thursday, you can preregister if you want to continue instruction for your child who is currently enrolled at a preschool, where a sibling is enrolled, or where a parent is employed. Preregistration goes through March 28, 2024.

You must inform your child care provider about your plans first and then the state will send you a link to register.

Low-income families will need to upload proof of income during the application process.

How does the matching happen?

This video explains how the state’s algorithm-based matching occurs.

When will I be matched with a provider?

You can choose your top 10 providers and the state will match your student with one of them based on an algorithm. After being matched, you can accept it to start the enrollment process. Once the accepted status is seen in the system, the provider will reach out to finalize enrollment.

The first round of applicants will be matched in April. Families who apply after April will be matched in July.

After that, families can enroll directly at a preschool on a walk-in basis if there is still space, through the end of the school year.

My child has a disability and a special education plan. What should I do?

School districts are required to serve students with special needs. If your child is already getting services at a local school district, the district will send a link to apply for universal preschool.

You can also apply by logging in to your application with the email tied to your child’s IEP. If your child has a specialized education plan but is new to a school district, you should apply through the state’s system noting the IEP. The new school district will contact them.

If you're searching for a provider not connected to a school district, you can filter for special accommodations. Providers must list what they can support such as administering routine medication, languages served, physical support and other needs.

I think my child may have a disability, but I’m not sure. What should I do?

Your Local Coordinating Council in your county should be able to guide you. If your child doesn't isn't diagnosed, you can contact Child Find, a state program that screens and evaluates children ages three through five for formal designation of a disability.

What happens after I “accept” my child’s match?

Your preschool provider will contact you to complete their enrollment process.

If you have more questions or need help, use this form or call 303-866-5223.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.

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