The Colorado free preschool attracts nearly 17,000 applications

Inside Colorado’s Free Preschool Initiative

About 17,000 Colorado families have applied to the state’s free preschool program in the week since applications opened Jan. 17, a state official said at a meeting Wednesday.

The early burst of interest in the new preschool program could mean that enrollment will exceed the estimated 30,000 children that state officials would attend in their first year. The first application window runs until February 14, families can still apply after that.

Free preschool in Colorado

Families who fill out the application by February 14th will be informed on March 10th which preschool their child has been assigned to.

The universal preschool program, one of Gov. Jared Polis’ top priorities, will begin next fall. It will provide 10 to 15 hours per week of tuition-free preschool for 4-year-olds across the state, with some entitled to 30 hours per week. In addition, some 3-year-olds are entitled to 10 hours per week.

At the online meeting of more than 100 early childhood education leaders and advocates on Wednesday, Michael Cooke, the state’s transition director for early childhood development, said 2,100 of about 16,800 applications submitted so far are for 3-year-olds.

She described the day the application launched as doozy, but said aside from a brief initial slowdown, “the system handled it beautifully.”

While many families have submitted applications, many still have questions about which preschools their children will be placed in. State officials have said preference is given to children in preschools where they are already enrolled, where a sibling is enrolled or where a parent works. But families won’t know their preschool games until mid-March.

Parents have expressed concerns big and small on social media and elsewhere since the application opened. Some have wondered how to ensure their preschoolers remain in bilingual classrooms or are assigned specific teachers who stay with students for several years.

Some parents are upset that they can’t enroll “red-shirted” children — the ones they want to keep out of kindergarten next fall — in the state’s free preschool program. (The program is primarily aimed at children in the year before they start kindergarten.)

Cooke said Wednesday that 1,600 preschool providers across Colorado chose to participate — with at least one in all 64 counties. That’s a jump from the 1,027 vendors signed up just prior to the launch of the application.

Providers are paid approximately $6,000 per child for providing 15 hours per week of class time for the school year. This includes schools, churches, day care centers and government-approved homes.

Have a question about Colorado’s universal preschool program? Let us know below [email protected] and we will do our best to find an answer.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat covering early childhood and early literacy issues. Contact Ann at [email protected]


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