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Preschooler Kinley Palmer leans in to listen to a question from teacher Sam Patru during a morning class at Early Connections Learning Center in Colorado Springs Friday, July 30, 2021. (Mark Reis, Special to the Colorado Sun.)

State education officials are extending the deadline for Colorado families to sign up for the state’s expanded preschool program now that an influx of new preschool providers has agreed to participate in the program.

Colorado families will have until Feb. 24 to enroll their child in the state’s universal preschool program under the first round of applications, according to a media release from the Colorado Department of Early Childhood. More than 150 new preschool providers have agreed to participate in the program — which will debut this fall — since applications for families opened last month.

Applications under the first round of the state’s application process were originally due on Tuesday.

The extension will allow families extra time to submit information on the new department’s portal for applications and will also give families who have already signed up an opportunity to revise the preschool sites they selected.

Families who have already indicated which preschool providers they would like to send their child to can reopen their original application from Feb. 17-24 and make adjustments to the providers they select, according to the statement.

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“This extension will give families more time to enroll, put their child on the path to success and help save families an average of $6,000 per year,” Lisa Roy, executive director of DCED, said in the statement.

Close to 28,000 families have enrolled in the new preschool program since the application process opened in January. The department received 12,000 applications the first day families could submit them, exceeding state officials’ expectations.

Preschoolers Laylamarie Larson, left, and Kinley Palmer play together during a morning class at Early Connections Learning Center in Colorado Springs Friday, July 30, 2021. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

All 4-year-olds in the state will be eligible for at least 15 hours of free preschool per week — close to a half day of care. Additionally, some 3-year-olds will qualify for 10 hours of free preschool per week, including those with a disability, from low-income families, facing housing insecurity, learning English or living in foster care.

The state’s newly expanded preschool program was made possible by Colorado taxpayers in 2020, when voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition EE, which raised taxes on cigarettes and other products containing nicotine partly to fund more preschool for Colorado kids.

The department will launch another round of applications in the future but has not yet announced a date. Once the window for the first round closes later this month, state officials will begin a matching process on Feb. 27 for families who have already applied. That means that they will pair families with preschool providers — including home-based, center-based and school-based programs — and will consider factors like transportation, whether families are seeking a full day of preschool and whether a particular program is ranked as a family’s first choice.

Families will receive an email from the state making them aware of their preschool placement and next steps before the program starts in the fall, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, families who have not yet signed up will be able to continue enrolling in the state preschool program into the fall. The state plans to announce when it will open its next round of applications after it finishes matching families and providers next month.

Applications are available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

Erica Breunlin

Email: Twitter: @EricaBreunlin