Are there enough free preschool seats for Colorado 4-year-olds?

Since Colorado leaders began planning a major expansion of state-funded preschool more than two years ago, parents and advocates have wondered: Will there be enough seats for everybody who wants one?

The answer: It depends.

On paper, there are plenty of seats. State officials expect only about half of Colorado’s 4-year-olds — around 31,000 children — to participate in the first year. Meanwhile, a Chalkbeat analysis found more than 56,000 preschool seats available for next fall.

“Right now, it’s looking really good,” said Dawn Odean, the state’s universal preschool director.

But things get stickier at the county level. Some parts of the state are awash in preschool seats and others don’t have nearly enough. Some families may also struggle to find preschools with the schedules and programming they want.

“The physical number of slots versus what parents actually need doesn’t necessarily align,” said Kelly Esch, who’s both the parent of a preschooler and executive director of an organization that provides early childhood coaching and resources in western Colorado’s Garfield County.

While Chalkbeat’s county-by-county analysis provides a snapshot of preschool availability across Colorado, there are plenty of factors it doesn’t account for — families who cross county lines for preschool or the uneven distribution of seats within counties. Plus, it’s possible more providers will join soon, adding new seats to the tally.

Read more from our partners at Chalkbeat Colorado.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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