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Early Care and Education

Decades of research show that quality early care and education contribute to the development of cognitive and social-emotional skills including attentiveness, persistence, motivation, self-control, and teamwork. We know that when children are ready for school before kindergarten, they are more likely to be successful students and have better long-term life outcomes.  

The early years are the most effective time to invest in nurturing, high-quality care and learning experiences. While progress is being made, work remains to ensure that all Colorado families have access to the high-quality child care and preschool our kids need to thrive.

Child Care 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the child care sector in Colorado, licensed child care capacity was already far too limited to serve all of the young children in our state who likely need care. In 2019, over 246,000 Colorado kids under 6 lived in families where all available parents were in the labor work force, while Colorado’s licensed child care centers, family child care homes and preschools only had the capacity to serve approximately 152,000 children – only 62% of Colorado’s young children. This left 94,000 young children and their families to rely on other forms of care.  Unfortunately, child care capacity challenges are often due to widespread staffing issues made worse by the pandemic. 

The majority of Colorado’s youngest children live in households where all parents work, making child care a necessity for most families. Without strong federal and state support for quality early experiences, many working families struggle to find affordable child care. This creates even greater barriers to access for children in households with low incomes, making it increasingly difficult for parents to maintain employment.



Unfortunately, among the 44 states with state-supported preschool programs, Colorado ranks 39th in state spending, 26th in access to preschool for 4-year-olds, and 13th in access for 3-year-olds. Although Colorado’s state spending on preschool is low by comparison, the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) is an effective program that meets four out of 10 quality standards of the National Institute for Early Education and Research and consistently shows school readiness gains for Colorado children who face the most barriers to opportunity. In fact, longitudinal data show children at risk of low achievement (due to the effects of barriers such as racism or low incomes) who participate in the Colorado Preschool Program outperform their peers who did not participate in the program. This is true in every area of state assessment (reading, writing, math and science) through the ninth grade.  

Research shows that developmental gaps along the lines of income, race and ethnicity emerge long before children walk through the kindergarten classroom door, underscoring the importance of investing in high-quality learning opportunities like preschool during the earliest years of life. 

Investing in Kids 

Adequate funding is paramount to increasing access to high-quality early childhood experiences and providing support to families. We have seen positive trends in children’s fourth grade English Language Arts proficiency in the past several years, with more students performing at or above grade level. Between 2015 and 2019, Black or African-American and Hispanic/Latino children, in particular, saw significant improvement in fourth grade ELA proficiency. We need to build on this momentum to ensure more children have access to the high-quality early childhood experiences that set them on the path to school success.

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Growing Our Future Coalition

Founded in 2023, Growing Our Future is a coalition of Colorado-based advocacy organizations, families, and early childhood care providers aligned around the core idea that caregiving, in all the ways it happens in children’s lives, is essential, and should be respected, prioritized, and funded accordingly. The Colorado Children's Campaign and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition co-lead this effort.

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Colorado is Making Progress 

Thanks to Colorado voters, who overwhelmingly approved Proposition EE in 2020, the Colorado Preschool Program will be combined with Proposition EE funding to become the Colorado Universal Preschool Program in the fall of 2023. The Colorado Universal Preschool Program will offer 10 hours per week, at a minimum, of free part day preschool to all children in the state in their year before kindergarten.  

Thanks to the leadership of Colorado’s General Assembly and Gov. Polis, as of July 1, 2022, Colorado has a cabinet-level Department of Early Childhood that is tasked with streamlining and aligning programs and services to better improve the family and provider experience- across preschool and child care. The state is in the process of transforming our state’s systems to realize a vision for early childhood where all children, families, and early childhood program providers can thrive. The Children’s Campaign was an integral partner in the process to define the vision for the new department and continues to enthusiastically support its work. 

The Children’s Campaign is committed to advancing policy solutions to improve access to high-quality, affordable child care and preschool so that our state’s youngest children and their families can thrive.

Recent Policy Successes

HB23-1290 (McCluskie & Sirota/Moreno & Fields) Retain Revenue for Universal Preschool refers a question to November 2023 voters about whether to retain excess revenue raised from Proposition EE, a ballot measure Coloradans passed overwhelmingly in 2020. Prop EE raised taxes on tobacco and nicotine products to fund a free, voluntary universal preschool program. Retaining the additional revenue will allow Colorado to provide universal preschool services and extend additional preschool programming to more children, especially those with qualifying factors who need it most.

HB23-1091 (Pugliese & Kipp/Marchman & Rich) Child Care Contribution Tax Credit Renewal establishes the functions of the Department of Early Childhood and the leadership of the department in administering early childhood, child health, and family support programs. It also creates the Colorado universal preschool program, which will provide at least 10 hours per week of free preschool services for children in the year before kindergarten, beginning with the 2023 school year.

HB22-1295 (Sirota & Garnett/Buckner & Fenberg) Department of Early Childhood and Universal Preschool establishes the functions of the Department of Early Childhood and the leadership of the department in administering early childhood, child health, and family support programs. It also creates the Colorado universal preschool program, which will provide at least 10 hours per week of free preschool services for children in the year before kindergarten, beginning with the 2023 school year.

HB21-1304 (Sirota & Garnett/Fenberg & Buckner) Early Childhood System established the Colorado Department of Early Childhood as a cabinet-level state agency focused on better meeting the needs of children, families, and service providers in the early childhood sector and set Colorado on a path to implement Universal Preschool.   

HB21-1312 (Weissman & Sirota/Hansen & Moreno) Insurance Premium Property Sales Severance Tax increases and expands the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and funds the state Child Tax Credit (CTC) – two of the most effective tools for eliminating child poverty.  

HB21-1222 (Valdez & Van Winkle/Smallwood & Winter) Regulation of Family Child Care Homes increases access to child care by reducing burdensome regulations that family child care homes face by requiring local regulatory entities to treat licensed family child care providers as residences for regulatory purposes like zoning, fire, and building codes. 

Proposition EE and HB 20-1427 (Caraveo & McCluskie/Fileds & Moreno) Cigarette Tobacco And Nicotine Products Tax to Support Health and Early Childhood Education Programs was the most successful tax measure since TABOR, earning the support of Colorado voters by a 2 to 1 margin to fund part-day, universal, voluntary preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state beginning in fall of 2023.  

HB19-1013 (Exum/Pettersen) Child Care Expenses Tax Credit Low-Income Families extends the low-income Child Care Expenses Tax Credit for 8 years (continuing $3M tax credit).  

HB19-1262 (Wilson & McLachlan/Bridges) State Funding for Full-day Kindergarten provides funding for full-day kindergarten for any Colorado family that chooses it, as well as increases access to the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) by more than 5,200 slots, the single largest year-over-year expansion of preschool in the history of the state.  

Budget Successes  

  • In 2020, the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) received a $5.6 million increase to support access to quality early care and education for working families. This is the seventh consecutive year of increases.  
  • In 2020, an increase of $10.5 million for Colorado Department of Human Services to continue to provide quality child care via the CCCAP.  
  • In 2020, Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) received $26.2 million increase to ensure children and pregnant people do not lose coverage during the health crisis.