Free universal preschool applications open in DougCo next week

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) Colorado’s universal preschool program will begin accepting applications on January 17. All families can apply for up to 15 hours of free preschool per week, regardless of income.

Various options are available through licensed community-based, school-based, or home-based preschools. The only caveat is that families applying to a school-based program must reside within the district.

“Once parents fill out a form with their address, child’s birthdate, and answer a few survey questions, a map with pop up with a list of qualified providers,” said Diane Smith, director of the Douglas County Early Childhood Council.

“Parents can indicate if their child or their sibling already attends a qualified program and also list their top five preferences. The system will start the matching process after February 14,” said Smith.

According to the Universal Preschool website, families can reject the system’s choice and resubmit an application, depending on when the rejection is completed.

More than 70 providers in DougCo have already registered to join the program, and Smith indicated that more are applying daily.

“It’s incredibly hard to know how the process will play out in DougCo because it’s the first year,” she said. “The biggest obstacle is ensuring families know the program exists and how to apply.”

The Douglas County Early Childhood Council will administer the universal preschool program in DougCo and can help answer questions and guide families through the process.

The council is hosting a series of virtual meetings this week. For more information, follow the council’s Facebook page or the website.

Qualifying for additional hours

Children who turn four years old on or before October 1, 2023, with the following qualifications may be eligible for 30 hours of free services:

  • A child who lives in a low-income household (270% of the 2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines)
  • Children with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • A child who is identified as homeless
  • A child in foster care or in non-certified kinship care
  • English Language Learners

Three-year-olds may also apply for the program if they meet one or all of the qualifying factors above.

Parents who don’t qualify for more than 10 to 15 hours can pay schools separately for additional costs.

About Universal Preschool

According to Chalkbeat, “The $335 million program is slated to serve 30,000 4-year-olds next year and even more in future years, according to state estimates. It will replace a smaller state-funded preschool program serving about 19,000 children from low-income families or with other risk factors.”

Polis said in a press release that his administration is “bringing high-quality preschool to Colorado kids, saving families thousands of dollars, and making sure Colorado students get a strong start in school.”

His office expects the program will save parents around $6,000 per year.

Universal preschool is part of a more considerable effort by Gov. Jared Polis and his administration to prepare Colorado’s youngest with quality education and reduce the financial burden of childcare on families.

Last year, the state began providing districts with funding to allow all children access to free full-day kindergarten.

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I'm a reporter covering the Douglas County School District in Colorado.

Denver, CO

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