Chaffee County Early Childhood Council Says Local Registration Going Smoothly
The state of Colorado has extended the deadline for families to apply for free universal Pre-K to Friday, Feb. 24.
The deadline had been set for February 14 and the 10-day extension has been given by state officials, who say they are even reopening already-submitted preschool applications so that families can re-rank their five preschool choices or if they decide to, make different choices altogether.
The rollout of the state’s universal (free) pre-kindergarten program has had its share of confusion, leading to frustrated parents. The deadline extension and the last-minute extension and revision decisions come amid several stumbles that have led to confusion and frustration among parents as the state is moving swiftly to roll out universal preschool availability by this coming fall, 2023.
But here in Chaffee County, the process appears to be going smoothly, according to Chaffee County Early Childhood Council Coordinator Sarah Romack.
“We were set for our community. We had great participation from our providers. Most of our licensed centers are UPK (universal pre-kindergarten) providers. Our UPK manager was working with them and we were all set by the initial deadline,” she added. “The extension is for parents and areas that needed to work with their providers a bit longer, and for parents to go in and change their application if they want to.”
Romack says that the Chaffee Community Plan submitted to the state for fall 2023 included 205 prekindergarten slots for this county. “We spent months talking to centers — asking how many four-year-olds how many three-year-olds do you care for. We might be seeing more UPK spots open.”
Romack admitted that they will miss the pre-K slots of The Schoolhouse in Poncha Springs. ” We lost the Schoolhouse, so we’re out their 20 slots.”
She explained that the Salida School District preschool program called the Salida Early Childhood Center is a Head Start program. “We’re lucky we have both school districts and several community-based programs, two family home-care providers, and two Montessori Programs — on in BV and one in Salida,” she added.
In other parts of the state, parents weren’t the only ones frustrated. Apparently, some participating preschools either forgot or didn’t know that they had to list the number of seats they have open in each preschool category such as: half-day mornings, half-day afternoons, full-day preschool, etc. This means that families might have selected preschool offerings that don’t exist.
A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, which will run the free universal preschool program, said last week the state decided to reopen all preschool applications to allow families to review the selections. Apparently, more than 150 prekindergarten providers signed up late, so those early-applicant families didn’t even see them as an option.
According to the nonprofit Chalk Beat Magazine, which covers public school news, the Colorado Department of Early Childhood Education “is letting all families who submitted applications make revisions because some incorrectly believed it was a first-come, first-served system and rushed through their preschool applications the day the system opened Jan. 17.”
The new program is one of Governor Jared Polis’ signature priorities. The program will offer 10 to 30 hours a week of tuition-free class time to four-year-olds statewide, as well as 10 hours a week to some three-year-olds.
“One of our tasks as the local coordinating organization is to help build capacity,” says Romack. “We always were charged with that role, but now it weighs heavier on us because the state wants this UPK program to be successful.”
She added that the Chaffee Early Childhood Council is fielding questions from parents, and trying to make sure that people know where to go. It is also helping all the childcare centers with their springtime enrollment events.
Families who don’t apply by the February 24 cutoff date can still apply, but they won’t get informed on that March 30 date.
For those looking for more information, go to the newly-redesigned CCECC website — which now includes all the pre-kindergarten information and a link to the application. If you don’t see the answer to your question there, email info at ccecc.org or call 719-221-5114.