Have You Heard About UPK Free Preschool Program?

By Melissa Shrader Editor Publisher Fort Collins Macaroni Kid January 23, 2023

UPK Free Preschool Program Facts.

Have you heard about the new Universal Preschool (UPK) Colorado program?  Beginning this fall in the 2023-2024 school year, families in Colorado can receive at least 15 hours per week of free, voluntary preschool for 4-year-olds. Some qualifying 3-year-olds are eligible for 10 free hours per week. The program will help schools and families alike.

What is the UPK Program?

UPK covers education in licensed community-based, school-based or home-based preschool settings that have registered with the state to participate in the UPK program. Over 29,000 slots from 850 providers, including most of the state’s public-school districts, have been made available as of last week. More providers are expected to join once enrollment begins.

UPK Colorado applications submitted by February 14 will be matched together, with additional matching rounds to follow. The program is not a first come first serve system.

Before you submit your application, you can return to it as many times as you like before submitting. If you need to change information on your application after you have you must contact your Local Coordinating Organization (LCO).

Who qualifies?

Every child in Colorado is eligible for the UPK program in the year prior to their eligibility to begin kindergarten. For example, this year children turning 4 prior to October 1, 2023. Keep in mind, Families are entitled to only one school year of UPK per child, regardless of when they choose to start their child in kindergarten, unless they meet the standards for qualifying 3-year-olds.

Your child could qualify for up to 30 hours of weekly coverage based on certain criteria including household income, individual education plans, homelessness status, learning dual languages and foster or kinship care.

Three-year-olds who meet those criteria are also eligible for up to 10 hours per week in the program. Find more details on the benefits and requirements on the registration site.

How do you sign up?

Registration for eligible students begins Tuesday, Jan. 17 at and continues indefinitely, with no deadline. Families are encouraged to sign up early as slots with specific providers will fill up fast.

UPK will begin matching children with providers in mid-February and continue on a rolling basis after that.

How is the program free to me?

Funding for the program is coming from a nicotine products tax approved by voters in 2020.

Providers who are participating in the UPK program will bill and receive payment from the state for each qualifying child they enroll. Initial reimbursement rate is $5,944 for a 4-year-old for the nine-month school year, paid on a quarterly basis.

What providers are available?

Statewide, the number of providers will vary as slots fill up, particularly in programs run by local school districts. This includes Poudre, Thompson and Weld RE-4. The districts are limited by space and staffing and may not necessarily be able to provide a full 15 hours per week of instruction for 4-year-olds in the first year of the program. The new UPK program offers 5 more hours of instruction in comparison to Colorado’s previous preschool program for 4-year-olds which was administered by school districts and required 10 hours of instruction each week.

The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County, and other similar programs across the state, have been established to provide support to providers and families accessing the UPK program.

Larimer County had about 50 providers enrolled in the program currently. They include preschools, day care centers, in-home day care services and early childhood education programs in local school districts.

The state will match children with providers through the application process.

State officials will consider if a family already has one family member enrolled in UPK and try to keep the family in the same care center. It is highly suggested to list this on the application so consideration can be made to keep families together.

If your provider isn’t already enrolled in the program it’s highly suggested that they participate so they can claim the tuition credit for eligible children.

Poudre School District offers early childhood education programs at 21 of its elementary schools and 7 community sites. Eyestone Elementary in Wellington will have an expanded program this fall.

Thompson School District offers early childhood education programs at 13 locations within Loveland and Berthoud and some surrounding areas.

Weld RE-4 School District serving portions of Windsor, Severance and west Greeley, offers preschool programs at 3 elementary schools.

There may be limitations to residents in particular districts.

What to do if you don’t like the provider you were assigned?

Families can reject the provider they are matched with through the application process but might need to resubmit their application if they do so, depending on when the rejection is completed.

Tell me more.

Where do I sign up? 

Colorado Department of Early Childhood

Where do I find my Local Coordinating Organization to make application changes?

Link here. 

How do I find my providers?

Link here.

I'm ready to submit my application! 

Application Link Here.

Colorado Department of Early Childhood 

Link here