New Horizons Co-op Preschool in Boulder on Feb. 13, 2023. Founded in 1968, New Horizons is a bilingual program for up to 16 children at a time. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

More than 24,700 families who applied to participate in Colorado’s expanded preschool program — known as universal preschool — were notified which early childhood education program the state is pairing them with, according to a media release from the Colorado Department of Early Childhood.

Those families applied in the state’s first round of applications, which closed Feb. 24 after the state extended the deadline.

The state will roll out its expanded preschool program in the fall, offering every child up to 15 hours of free preschool each week in the year before they enter kindergarten.

Of the 24,743 families who the state matched with one of their five preferred providers, 22,087 families were given their first choice, according to the media release.

Yet another 2,300 families who applied in the first application window were not matched with a provider, including families who only listed one preschool program on their application instead of five.

Those families can re-open their application to add new provider choices for the state’s next phase of matching. More providers have opted into the state’s expanded preschool program while some providers have expanded the number of seats for preschoolers in their facilities, the media release stated, noting that 1,861 providers across Colorado have signed up for the program.

Families who were successfully assigned a preschool provider can reject their match and enter a new set of program rankings, which will then be considered in the next round of matching, though they will lose their seat at the program the state already reserved for them.

All matched families must accept or decline their placement through by May 10 and then register with their provider. Those who don’t accept their spot by May 10 will lose it.

CDEC, which is structuring the state’s expanded preschool program ahead of its fall launch, used an algorithm to coordinate matches between families and providers. The second group of applications will be reviewed and matched in May.

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)

More than 32,000 families have applied to participate in the expanded preschool program since January, including more than 5,000 applications received since the deadline for the first round of applications, according to the media release.

The application is still open to families who have not signed their child up for the new program, with enrollment facilitated on a rolling basis and no deadline to apply.

Erica Breunlin is an education writer for The Colorado Sun, where she has reported since 2019. Much of her work has traced the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic on student learning and highlighted teachers' struggles with overwhelming workloads...