Enrollment for Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program opened on January 17. This initiative, highly touted by Governor Jared Polis, provides 15 hours of free, voluntary preschool each week, for Colorado 4-year-olds. It also has a tract for qualifying 3-year-olds, who can be eligible for up to 10 hours of preschool programming.

The process involves a state-wide application and registration that will match children with the over 850 providers who have signed up to participate in this state-funded program.

This year’s enrollment window has already closed (February 24), however, we thought it would be helpful to explain this new program and give families a heads-up for future enrollment opportunities!

Preschool-aged girl looks through a purple children’s camera lens

What is Universal Pre-K Colorado?

As mentioned above, Colorado families can register 3-year-old children who meet certain requirements for up to 10 hours a week, and 4-year-old children for up to 15 hours per week of state-funded preschool. This program is free to families and participation is voluntary.

Who can participate?

This program was designed to meet the needs of every Colorado child in the year before they are eligible to enter kindergarten. The cutoff birthdate is October 1st – that means any Colorado child who turns 4 before October 1st in the year they are enrolling is eligible.

A group of five preschoolers in blue paint smocks sit around a table while watercolor painting

What is the enrollment process like?

The enrollment process is done on a rolling basis. This means that applications that have been submitted by the cut-off date of February 24 will be matched with participating preschool programs and early childhood education centers. Additional matching rounds will be planned to meet needs.

Applying for these free programs is easy. Through the UPK link, you can browse participating Colorado providers and filter results based on location, transportation, and more. The link includes profiles for the providers that you can review. All UPK Colorado providers are licensed childcare providers.

Your application process will include a chance for you to rank a list of preferred providers. 

Applicants must provide proof of income, age, and residency. Providers will place offers with matched applicants. These offers will serve as a guaranteed spot for the child with that provider.

Families who aren’t happy with their matched provider can reject the match and resubmit their application.

Families with a 3-year-old that meets one of the qualifying factors – household income, IEP, Housing status, dual language learner, foster/kinship care – who wish to participate, will be matched with a school district program where they reside.

Other Important Information

UPK Colorado is a program that is part of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC), along with other early childhood and family support services. There are local coordinating councils that work to support the program at the local level.

UPK Colorado was created through HB 22-1295, as the result of Proposition EE – a voter-approved ballot initiative that increases taxes on nicotine products. The revenue generated from these taxes is designated for a variety of health and educational programs, including preschool funding.

UPK will be replacing the Colorado Preschool Program in its current form. The new program will unify state funding under one funding source. 

Local coordinating councils will strive to ensure that all families wishing to participate in UPK Colorado are served. Enrollment will depend on the availability of participating providers, the ability to meet the child’s specific needs, and available funding. UPK has been designed as a slot-based system where families choose approved providers as a way to promote community planning and ensure predictability for providers.

You can find more information, including how UPK Colorado works with Head Start and Child Care Assistance programs (CCCAP) on the UPK FAQs page here

Four preschoolers smile at the camera while standing in front of artwork and naptime supplies.
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