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Some providers wary of process on eve of Universal PreK launch in Colorado

Some providers weary of process on eve of Universal PreK launch in Colorado
Some providers weary of process on eve of Universal PreK launch in Colorado 03:23

The second year of Colorado's Universal Pre-K program launches on Thursday, Feb. 29 with an opportunity for families to fill out applications. This comes after a rocky rollout in 2023 that left families and providers navigating several hurdles in getting the classroom matches they applied for.

Mat Aubuchon, Executive Director of Learning Services for Westminster Public Schools says despite his team preparing for months, they still have concerns.

"I don't know what it looks like we are struggling a little bit to tell parents what's going to happen," he said.


Like most educators will tell you knowledge is power, and he says they haven't been given the information they need, "I appreciate the department is working with us, they really are trying to take the year one pitfalls and avoid them for year two. The problem we are seeing on the ground level is that we haven't been trained on what that looks like."

The state-run program is designed to give children in the year before kindergarten up to 15 hours of free preschool, and those who qualify could see more.

From the initial launch, families and providers raised issues, largely with the process for matching families and hours received versus what families they thought they qualified for.

Dawn Odean, the director of Colorado's UPK program, says the rapid start did lead to challenges.

"For year two we have made significant enhancements to the Universal PreK application portal both for families and for providers," she said.

They've moved to a phased approach, with some families able to pre-register with the priority of keeping families in locations they're connected to.

"We are providing an opportunity to ensure that continuum of care can happen within the universal preschool system so that provider has a window of time which will be coming in the next few weeks before we do any matching where they can tell us, 'Hey, we know these families are coming back and this is where they will be,'" she said.

While Odean says they've increased communication with their providers about how the process will unfold, Aubuchon and other district leaders say it is inconsistent and they would've liked to have seen more before opening this year's application process.

"We will be able to handle it, the key is just patience," he said.

The issues identified in the first year of the program led to a lawsuit by six school districts around the state, with Westminster being one of them. That case is still pending.

Colorado's Universal PreK application process opens at noon on Feb. 29.

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