The Colorado legislature had a productive session that spotlighted the importance of early childhood education this year. The state has approximately 2,623 children under the age of three enrolled in Early Head Start, and about 21 percent of 4-year-olds and 7 percent of 3-year-olds currently have access to state-funded pre-K. However, lawmakers and advocates realize that isn’t good enough. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $12,736. While a Race to the Top Early Learning grant will jumpstart a number of early learning initiatives over the next few years, support for expanding opportunities for low-income children and families continues.
- What’s happening in the legislature: Colorado’s most recent legislative session saw several bills passed which affect early childhood education. Approved in April 2014, HB 14-1317 made changes to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program by increasing access to affordable child care for working families. The School Finance Act, approved in May 2014, will add 5,000 new slots for preschool and full-day kindergarten for at-risk children. Finally, the Student Success Act includes nearly $17 million in new funding for an early literacy initiative for K-3 students. Combined, these bills added nearly $60 million in new funding for Colorado’s early education system.
- What advocates are saying: Early learning advocates have been vocal in supporting investments in early childhood education on both the state and federal levels. In February 2014, Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning in Colorado, testified before the U.S. Senate’s HELP Committee during a hearing. There, she presented her organization’s work as a model of success in early childhood education on the local level. Brantley encouraged federal investments in early learning to help states, like Colorado, expand and improve upon the quality of programs and build more robust systems.
- What local leaders are saying: In June 2014, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock shared plans to ask voters to renew and increase the city’s tax-supported preschool program, which is set to expire in December 2016.
- Innovation in early childhood education: During ongoing efforts to expand educational opportunities in Colorado, leaders in the state are also focusing on innovation. When facing funding challenges for high-quality early childhood education programs in Boulder County, the finance task force of the Early Childhood Council decided to pursue an innovative financing model. The “Pay for Success” model will allow private investors to invest in programs, such as high-quality preschool, based on evidence that proves these programs reduce costly interventions and remedial education. The council is working on data collection and the analysis of current programs in the county to move the process forward.