Follow Up


Universal preschool in Colorado: What the delay in matching means and what families need to know

Families were to learn Thursday which pre-school their children would attend, but on Tuesday the Colorado Department of Early Childhood delayed this until April 26.
Posted: 10:08 AM, Mar 31, 2023
Updated: 2023-03-31 12:18:57-04
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With Colorado families excited about the prospect of sending their children to the state’s new universal preschool program, this week’s delay in the matching program has raised questions for parents.

Families were to learn Thursday which pre-school their children would attend, but on Tuesday the Colorado Department of Early Childhood delayed this until April 26.

“To maximize the likelihood of families receiving their first or second choice, allow for additional time that will enable providers to fully consider their capabilities to expand their offerings in the coming school year, and give families the opportunity to fine-tune their preferences, the department is extending the release of the first round of matching until April 26, 2023.” a press release read.

Denver7 has received concerns from families about the process and anchor Nicole Brady followed up on those questions with Elsa Holguín, President of the Denver preschool program, who said she is happy with the decision to postpone matches.

The conversation is presented as a Q&A and we will add resources and links below to help families stay informed as April 26 nears.

Universal preschool in Colorado: What the delay in matching means and what families need to know

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

The application process is brand new, though families were asked to rank their top five providers then an algorithm matches them. It does take into consideration if the child already attends that school or if they have a sibling there. But I'm told that not all families knew to put that in the application or some used a mobile phone to fill out the application and couldn't see that section.

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

For some families. This is a very big concern. If your child needs to be with a provider that knows how to work with disabilities, for example, and you show us a provider that is not able to do it. We have a big problem, and we need to have the ability to do the fix up.

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

It sounds like the letter that the Denver preschool program was a part of did influence the state and its decision to delay the process of notifying families? Is this something that you guys were pushing for and are pleased to see?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

Yes, absolutely. we are very happy that the state has made the decision to expand, extend the deadline for notifying the families. The reality of the situation, and I want to make sure that it doesn't get lost – is that this is a monumental opportunity for Colorado. This is the first time we have universal preschool at the state level. As expected, it is figuring out how do we do that first match?

I want to make sure that for the majority of the families that matches work. But as we all know, when it's your child, and that's the one that didn't get match, or you have a problem with the match that happened, it doesn't matter.

Everything is about you that family and that child. So these, this gives us the opportunity to spend more time and ensure that the program is working for the most families that we can possibly make it happen

Will only be ultimately perfect?. No. But we have more time to notify families, to troubleshoot individual cases, and figure out whether they were matched with the right program, or they need help.

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

Since Denver preschool program has been doing this for so long, already – you had families, I have no doubt, that have been in the pipeline that have wanted to be in the Denver preschool program for a long time. What are you telling your families right now, and I'm sure they've been reaching out to you?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

Oh, absolutely. The Denver preschool program is both the intermediary for the state. So we're the local coordinating organization all over the state, and have the funding from Denver. So for us, we have the ability to shadow our families to get funding from the state. And as you know, the state funding is at 15 hours. So, we are able to supplement to the level that families may need because we know that 85% of our families need full day or extended-day support. So we are still going to be able to work with the families to supplement what they know.

What this means for us Nicole, which is really exciting, is that we can continue to serve more than 3-year-olds. So in Denver, the Denver preschool program is already helping 60% of all the four-year-olds, which is close to 4,500 kids per year. And so that funding that is coming through the state doesn't necessarily I think that the publicity and I think the fact that there is more money will allow us to bring in more families into the four-year-old program. But we don't expect that that's going to be a huge number, because we're already in contact with most of them. So what this means is that we can serve more 3-year-olds. The challenging part that is happening right now is to ensure that these families are connected to the preschool that they have chosen in both the city and the state.

We are really grounded on family choice, which means that it is not just the Denver Public School -- the public school providers, but it's all the community providers, which as you know, are very complex.

They are nonprofit, for profit, large and small community providers also include family providers, and it also includes religiously-affiliated providers, which means it makes it confusing for families as they're filling out the state application and figuring out – how do I apply for this? And so this first year, they have to apply for the state in there, they have to separately apply for us. The goal next year is that we will have a universal application. And so next year, we will make it even easier for families to apply. But it's complicated to figure out how to do it.

10 hours of no cost preschool a week starting next fall


Q&A: Denver7 sits down with head of Colorado’s universal preschool program

Nicole Brady
2:30 AM, Jan 17, 2023

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

I did not know that. So are families in your program – are they waiting for their state match and then will apply for the Denver preschool program?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

That is correct. They're waiting for their state match. So the state match is going to be the highest level of matching.

There's something that we call continuity of care. And that is for providers that had these children in the program when they were three years old. And as you know, if you have young children in your family – the continuity of the same provider and your child, either because they were already there, and they already know the system, or they may have a younger sibling – continuity of care is prioritized for the state.

And some of it was lost in translation, both literally and because we're learning what continuity of care means for some providers, and so that's some of the challenges that they have that providers didn't understand, our parents didn't understand what continuity of care really meant, and may not have checked off, that they were applying to that provider, and wanted to get higher priority or extra points, because their child had already been in that program, or they were already enrolled as a four-year-old because, as you know, sometimes we have all our children a year in advance just to make sure that they can be in that program.

So parents were struggling, not understanding: ‘Oh, I didn't indicate that I should be prioritized, because this is a continuity of care provider.’ But that's a really good example. So they applied for that, and then they applied to us, and then we're able to help them with the support – both programs and universal programs, which means that we will fund all the children that apply. So there is no in no out, everybody will qualify for the state funding, and for the Denver fund.

So that's very important for families to keep in mind that the qualification that we're looking at is the match with a provider. But the beauty of it is that both are universal.

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

Everyone in Denver's preschool program in the Denver preschool program is fully funded. Is that right?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

Not exactly – We do it on a tuition credit scale. So the state funding in Denver, for example, it's a little bit over $6,000, for the first 15 hours. So everybody gets the same amount at the state level. At the city level for the Denver program. We are on a scale. So everybody qualifies for funding. But the funding differs depending on the need. And one of the things that we just did, Nicole, to make it even more exciting for families in Denver to apply is we just increased our tuition credit. And our tuition credit is significant.

So our new tuition credit for this upcoming year is going to be an average of $967 per month, year-round, that means $11,600 per child, for the average. For the highest level of need. We are funding it --- $1,200 dollars per month, year around. So that means for families at our highest level of need, we do fund many families at 100%. But it's on a scale. And then for some of our families that are the highest in Denver, they will be able to get the same level of tuition support for their three year old. So now we have two years of tuition support that we can provide in Denver, thanks to the Universal Preschool Program at the state because they're also subsidizing some of the universal preschool need

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

With this delay in the match, is there any hope then that more providers will continue to sign up

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

So that is very important to remember that because the providers can still sign up. This is just the first round of matching. So we will have at least two other rounds of matching before the school year starts this year. So please do sign up. If you're a provider interested in universal preschool, and providing preschool and be part of the universal preschool funding at the state level, you can sign up as a provider, and you can also sign up as a family. So the families can continue to sign up.

We have seen an extraordinary response, we at the state level, the hope was that we were going to get 16,000 families in year one, which is about half of the potential overall number, we're at 29,000. So the number that response has been incredible. But you can still apply. So you can go and apply as a family, please do apply, it is our great opportunity to get funding for universal preschool for your child. And so that continues throughout all the way until the school year starts, or later on this fall.

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

I know that there has been some criticism of the program from the provider and from families that it’s just rolling out too fast. What are your thoughts on that?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

It is new. This is a new program for the state level. And, yeah, we have a new system to put in place, we are going through the, through the pains of what a new system means. they had to do it. And we had some challenges with providers learning how to navigate a system. And because of what I just told you about the variety of providers that we have, the level of the technology needed, and the ability to fill out the application. And we had some learning pains that are happening, it's definitely a problem. So we had some problems with a provider's figuring out how to do the application. making sure that they understood how to fill out how many seats they have available, what's their capacity, at the different levels -- is it a half a day in the morning? Is that I half day in the afternoon?what the school they mean versus extended day and all those things that they had to navigate. And the same happens to families. So when you have a new system, and and we know that 85% of the families got their first choice on this match, which is really wonderful. But it also means that families -- we know that up to 5% didn't get matched, and some families got matched with a wrong provider - either because the provider didn't fill it out right, or the family didn't fill them out, right, they didn't indicate continuity of care. And for some of those, it may be a small correction. But for some families, this is a very big concern.

If the child needs to be with a provider that knows how to work with disabilities, for example, and you show us a provider that is not able to do it, we have a big problem. And we need to have the ability to fix that. So I don't think the problem was just that we created a new system. It's also that we're still estimating what is the right time to do that corrections, because the LCOs (Local coordinating organizations) are the ones who are doing the picking up the phone, calling the families, working with that provider, looking at the list. And that takes a lot more time than what we have available. And we're learning we're learning as we're going through this process that we we have to make some fixes to the system, we have to be more explicit on how we do it. But we also learned that many of our families filled out the application on mobile phones, and they may not have been able to see all the boxes that they needed to check and may have skipped the box or may not be able to do it. So that's part of the standing up a new program. I think always if we had more time it will have been great to do it. But we also have to remember the funding for Prop EE -- For the first two years it was dedicated to help the state with some education and COVID-related expenses. We didn't have the funding to start this new department until this year.

It's got to be an ongoing story that it will this will have never happened if it wasn't because we have 32 LCOs (Local Coordinating Organizations) that are helping the state with this application process. Can you imagine the state dealing with 29,000 applications and they having to follow up? If it wasn't because they have 32 organizations at the community level that are helping with this process. Multiply the number of people that have to do this, this is new for the state as well, to have this partnership with an intermediary at the local level, outside of government that is working on this. So this also a new experiment. And I actually think is working, because we have to have the ability to give the state feedback and say, this is working. This is not working. And we need to figure it out.

Q: Nicole Brady, Denver7

I know every family, like you said won't get their first choice necessarily, but there will be time to try to work things out and get them the best possible placement?

A: Elsa Holguín, President, Denver preschool program

Absolutely, the majority of the families will get their first choice. And then for the ones that didn't, we need to make sure that we are helping them navigate these new systems. Please continue to apply. Please continue to reach out to your local coordinating organization.

Universal preschool in Colorado: Links and resources for families

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