Breaking Down Colorado’s New Universal Pre-K Program

Colorado’s new universal pre-K program is rolling out this month, with the state now accepting applications for the first wave between January 17 and February 14. The second wave will be open between February 15 and March 13. Families that apply during the current window can expect to hear back by March 10.

What does this program mean for Colorado families, and what does it mean for Colorado faith communities that currently provide child care services?

How universal pre-K affects families

Child care remains one of the biggest items in household budgets. According to a White House fact sheet from 2021, the average annual cost of child care for a Colorado toddler is in excess of $14,000. This makes universal pre-K a big cost saver for families with young children.

The universal pre-K program, which was funded thanks to voters approving a new tobacco tax in 2020, is available for all children the year before they’re scheduled to enroll in kindergarten (typically ages 3 and 4). Eligible families can get up to 15 hours of free universal pre-K, though families can get approved for up to 30 hours if they meet criteria such as:

  • Income up to 270 percent of the Federal Poverty Line under 2023 poverty guidelines
  • A dual language learner, or if English is not the primary language spoken in the child’s household
  • Has an Individualized Education Program, or IEP (indicating the child has a disability that impacts a child’s learning)
  • Is in a foster home or in non-certified kinship care
  • Experiencing homelessness

According to Colorado Public Radio, there have already been more than 1,000 child care providers that have signed up for the universal pre-K program, meaning up to 37,000 children can be enrolled.

How universal pre-K affects child care providers

Many faith communities currently provide child care services in Colorado, and providers can qualify for state funding under the new universal pre-K law provided they meet certain guidelines. The program, which is administered by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, provides average funding of $4,837 for 10 hours of pre-K child care, $6,044 for 15 hours, and $10,655 for 30 hours. However, funding can vary depending on the region that’s being served. A full table showing funding by region is available here.

One of the sticking points for faith-based providers applying for state funding for universal pre-K is that Colorado statute states “providers shall not discriminate against any person on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, education, disability, socio-economic status, or any other identity.” This is presenting some challenges for some faith traditions who wish to qualify for state funding but have philosophical differences regarding issues like gender identity.

Any applicants interested in enrolling their children in universal pre-K, or faith communities interested in enrolling for universal pre-K funding are encouraged to read an FAQ of the program here.

We’ve also published a brief survey asking respondents about how the universal pre-K program has impacted your family and/or your congregation. Click here to take the survey!

(Featured image by, Creative Commons)

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