Colorado free preschool application deadline extended after confusing start for parents needing care

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Creative Learning Preschool in west Aurora, just on the border of Denver’s Central Park neighborhood. March 22, 2022.

By Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

Colorado has extended the deadline for families to apply for free preschool to Feb. 24.

The original deadline was Feb. 14, but state officials announced Tuesday that they would extend it by 10 days. They also said they would reopen already-submitted preschool applications starting Feb. 17 so that families can re-rank their five preschool choices or make different choices. The deadline for those families to make changes is also Feb. 24.

The last-minute extension and revision decisions come amid several stumbles that have led to confusion and frustration among parents and preschool providers as the state rushes to roll out universal preschool by next fall. The new program, one of Gov. Jared Polis’ signature priorities, will offer 10 to 30 hours a week of tuition-free class time to 4-year-olds statewide and 10 hours a week to some 3-year-olds. 

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, which will run the free preschool program, said last week the state decided to reopen all preschool applications because some participating preschools didn’t realize they had to list the number of seats they have in each category — half-day morning, half-day afternoon, full-day, and so on. Those errors meant that families may have signed up for preschool offerings that don’t exist.

Although the errors affected a subset of the nearly 28,000 applicants, the department is letting all families who submitted applications make revisions because some incorrectly believed it was a first-come, first-served system and rushed through their preschool applications the day the system opened Jan. 17. In addition about 150 more preschool providers signed up to offer preschool through the new program after the application first opened, so early birds may have had fewer choices than later-submitting families.

The state has promised to send families who submit their preschool applications by Feb. 24 an email on March 30 informing them which preschool their child matched with and what steps they should take to enroll. Families can still apply for preschool after Feb. 24, but they’ll be informed of their matches at a later date. 

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

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.