THERE’S a blitz campaign underway to get the word out and families signed up for the Universal Preschool Colorado program offered through the state’s new Department of Early Childhood.
Colorado is providing 4-year-olds with 15 hours a week of tuition-free preschool under legislation adopted in 2022. The program is expected to cost around $365 million through 2024, paid for through taxes on tobacco and nicotine sales and funding through the state’s general fund.
The Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley is facilitating registration for Valley families and has 226 families registered so far for fall 2023. Registration continues through the state’s web portal at upk.colorado.gov. Families that registered by Feb. 24 are being matched with a preschool in late April.
With 500 universal preschool slots available in the San Luis Valley, The Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley and Local Coordination Organization Director Bryan Lindert continue to push for local sign ups.
Lindert provided this breakdown of current enrollment by county and then addressed additional questions. Here is a county level breakdown:
Alamosa – 53
Conejos – 44
Costilla – 16
Mineral – 9
Rio Grande – 65
Saguache – 39
Alamosa Citizen: What role does The Early Childhood Council play in helping families sign up for the Universal Preschool Colorado program?
Bryan Lindert: The Early Childhood Council is the local coordinating organization. We serve all of Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. It is important that local families know that since the SLV has a different kindergarten enrollment period, many 5-year-olds here are also eligible. What this means is that universal preschool is available for children the year prior to kindergarten, so when the school district has a different enrollment date than October 1, a child can still be eligible. Any family with a child who will turn 5 between June 1 and October 1 this year should contact us at 719-214-6202 so we can manually enter them into the system. Finally, we created a website to help answer questions and provide updates. It can be found at: https://slvupkfamily.my.canva.site
AC: If the 500 slots available to San Luis Valley families aren’t filled, what happens to them?
Lindert: The unused slots will likely serve children in another community. However, the intent is that an eligible child that moves into our community could still receive services beginning in the mid-year if space and funding are available.
AC: What are the current workforce needs for the expansion of universal preschool?
Lindert: We asked local programs to only enter UPK slots that they could staff into the state portal. Thus, we expect that while there are significant staffing issues in child care in Colorado and in the San Luis Valley generally, the program should be able to meet the local need for this population.
What else to know about Colorado’s universal preschool program:
UPK Colorado is not a first-come, first-served program. All applications submitted by February 24 will be matched together, with additional matching rounds to follow. You can begin your application at any time and return to it as many times as you like before submitting. If you are a San Luis Valley family that has already submitted your application and need to make changes, contact SLV Early Childhood Council at 719-214-6202.
Some families may be eligible for additional hours of free preschool based on various factors, including income. Families seeking additional hours based on income are required to submit proof of income documentation.
Who is eligible?
If your child is in their year before they are eligible for kindergarten (will be at least four years old by Oct. 1, 2023), they will qualify for up to a half-day (15 hours per week) of preschool. If your child also has at least one qualifying factor, you may be eligible for additional hours.
If your child is three years old (by Oct. 1, 2023) and meets at least one of the qualifying factors, they may also be eligible for part-time (10 hours per week) preschool funding.
What if I need more than 15 hours per week of preschool but don’t meet the qualifying factors?
You will still be able to enroll in a program of your choosing and the first 15 hours per week will be free and then you can pay for the additional hours. Often the program can work with you to see if you might qualify for other programs to help subsidize the cost. You will be able to review the costs of each program on their page in the application program and decide which program is best for your family.
What are the qualifying factors?
A household income of less than 270% of the federal poverty guidelines. When you go to apply, the application will walk you through your household size and tell you what 270% means for your family in terms of dollars. As an example, for a family of four it will be $74,925.
If your income is lower than 270% you will need to provide proof of your family’s income. You will only need to show proof if your family income is less than 270% of the federal poverty guidelines. If you don’t have it when you first apply you will be able to log back in and add it to your application.
What if my child has a disability?
All children are eligible to receive universal preschool services. If your child has an individualized education program (IEP), partnering with your local school district is essential in ensuring aligned resources. If your child does not have an IEP, and you have concern of a potential developmental delay, go to www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/childfinddirectory for information on next steps.
TOP PHOTO: Special thanks to Little Treasures Preschool in La Jara
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