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Families receive long-awaited universal pre-K matches from state

More than 90% of families that applied were matched with one of the five providers they chose – 24,743 families applied to the universal pre-K program.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC) announced Wednesday that families who applied in the first round of Universal Preschool (UPK) should have received an email from the state letting them know which provider they matched with and the next steps for enrollment

The high demand prompted the state to take a bit longer than expected to announce the matches, with an original match date of March 30.

In total, 24,743 families who applied in the first application round (91.5%) were matched with one of the five providers they selected in their application, with 22,087 families of 4-year-olds being matched with their top choice, the agency said. 

For parents like Hannah Hagener of Jefferson County, she said it has been an anxious wait. 

"I know a lot of people who are really excited about this – myself included," Hagener said, who also said they were matched with their first-choice provider for their child who is turning four in a month.

As part of the UPK program, every 4-year-old child enrolled will receive up to 15 hours of preschool per week in the year before they are eligible to enroll for kindergarten. Up to 30 hours of free preschool will be available for children with one or more qualifying factors, pending availability and funding.

Children who are 3 years old with one or more qualifying factors are eligible for 10 hours.

Those qualifying factors include:

  • Household incomes under 270% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
  • Having an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Housing status
  • Dual language learner
  • Foster/kinship care

Families with 3- or 4-year-olds in need of special education preschool services can register on upk.colorado.gov and select if your child has an IEP. 

Families with 3-year-olds will then select the school district they live in and will be contacted by the district directly to determine enrollment in a specific school.

Credit: KUSA (FILE)

Citing census data, the CDEC reports that there are approximately 62,000 four- year-olds in Colorado. The latest data shows there are 56,607 seats in the program's system, according to a department spokesperson. 

They expect somewhere between 40 and 60% of all 4-year-olds to participate in UPK in Colorado. They currently have capacity for 89.9%.

A spokesperson added that those numbers are for the state overall and don't take into account location. "But we feel good about where things stand overall," the spokesperson wrote via email. 

There are 1,861 providers to date that have chosen to participate in this program, according to the department.

Roughly 2,300 did not match with a provider, but the department said there could be numerous reasons a match may not have happened, such as only ranking one provider instead of five.

As for Hagener, she remained hopeful for the success of the program. 

"I think in the end it'll be well worth it to kind of be the guinea pig – first round of UPK or first year of UPK for the benefits that it offers," she said.

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