Reimagining early childhood in Colorado – the future of early childhood Colorado starts here

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Early childhood is a critical time in children and families lives that lays the foundation for what is to come. The brain rapidly develops during this time period, with children constantly acquiring new knowledge and skills that will dramatically impact their educational and life outcomes. Therefore, access to adequate child care and education are critical in providing kids with the formal and informal learning they need to thrive. 

Unfortunately, the early years are when families often have the least support and children face the greatest hurdles to opportunity. It is during this time when children are most likely to live in poverty and experience homelessness—with many unable to access child care and preschool altogether. It is also when families are typically earning the least amount of money in their careers. Children who face disruptive levels of adversity face a lifetime of challenges in overcoming their foundational experiences. Therefore, they need a strong start to embark on a path to school readiness and life success. 

Desplácese hacia abajo para nuestros  recursos en español, incluyendo una hoja informativa y una lista de preguntas frecuentes sobre la legislación para crear un nuevo departamento estatal.

While Colorado has worked hard to respond to the challenges families may face by working to improve access and quality of early care and education, many problems still persistCurrently, early childhood programs exist across multiple state agencies with various eligibility requirements and funding streams. This fragmentation creates numerous challenges for parents and providers in navigating these programs, threatening both quality and accessibility for thousands of kids.   

Colorado has a unique opportunity to reimagine the existing patchwork of early childhood programs to create a more navigable and equitable framework for all Colorado families and providers. This legislative session, we must elevate early childhood to the importance it deserves. Addressing the burdens faced by families seeking early childhood services is more important than ever, and by establishing more streamlined early care and education programs, we can provide young children with the critical resources they need to thrive. 

What did Prop EE mean for early childhood in Colorado? 

The passage of Proposition EE provides Colorado with the chance to implement high quality universal preschool for 4-year-olds and support the improved infrastructure of child care. Beginning in the fall of 2023, this multiyear funding would allow for at least 10 hours of preschool per week for Colorado’s 4-year-olds. In order to fully realize the opportunity provided by this funding, it is essential that Colorado revisit the current structure of early childhood care and learning service delivery. 

Through the Preschool Policy Development Processmore than 900 Coloradans have engaged in policy discussions about the future of preschool in the state. Colorado’s statutorily created Early Childhood Leadership Commision, which includes representation from K-12, businesses, state agencies, parents, and providers, has been at the forefront of facilitating this momentous change. We have heard loud and clear that things are increasingly difficult for children, families, and providers to navigate and that we need to lift up early childhood to a more systemic level of governance. 

The Early Childhood Leadership Commission is recommending the creation of a new cabinet level state agency that consolidates the various early childhood authorities, programs, and funding streams and focuses on a unified vision of comprehensive early childhood service delivery for all children birth to age five.  

Click here to read the full recommendations.  

If the bill creating a new state agency passes this spring, the commission hopes to launch the agency by 2023 at the latest.  This momentous change could result in more streamlined, accessible early childhood programs that alleviate barriers to access currently faced by Colorado families and providers. By elevating early childhood to the importance that it deserves, Colorado can become a place where a supportive world of childhood experiences helps families and children on their path to kindergarten entry and beyond. 

One of our primary motivations is to include equity in the work of this new state agency. The bill will work to better serve children who have historically struggled to access quality early childhood services, and will explicitly address the importance of protecting the rights and needs of children with special needs. 

The Colorado Children’s Campaign believes the early years are the most effective time to invest in nurturing learning experiences and promote physical and social-emotional health to lay a strong foundation for later learning and achievement. When children and their families have access to quality early child care and education, their long-term academic and life outcomes improve. The investments we make between birth and age five achieve some of the best financial and social returnsincluding healthier and happier children, a more educated population andultimately, a stronger and more stable economy for our state.  

This is only the beginning of a policy implementation process. The work of community input and incorporating stakeholder perspectives is crucial to reimagining what early care and education will look like in this state. As we look to the future, we have an opportunity to advance a bold, innovative, and equitable approach to streamline the multitude of agencies and complex processes to create a truly unified system that elevates our shared early childhood vision.   

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Here are more resources to get you involved

  • The West Steps podcast: What is happening with child care in Colorado? Listen here 
  • Strong Systems, Strong Families, a town hall meeting featuring voices from the community on the future of preschool in Colorado. We were grateful to be joined by more than 170 Coloradans from across the state, including Governor Jared Polis and Representative Emily Sirota. Spanish interpretation was offered during the event. Recordings of the conversation in English and Spanish can be found here.   
  • Read Synthesis Reports from Early Milestones Colorado. 
  • Subscribe to our KidsFlash blog and stay up to date on the latest early childhood news happening at the Capitol and across the state. 
  • Become an advocate for children and families. Our Advocacy Training & Education includes tips for making your voice heard as an advocate, as well as information on child advocacy training opportunities 
  • Se puede mandar un mensaje a Melissa Mares (melissa@coloradokids.org) o a Stephanie Perez Carrillo (stephanie@coloradokids.org) si Ud. tiene interés en hablar más sobre la legislación o nuestro trabajo.

FAQs

Why is this change being proposed?

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These changes seek to elevate early childhood to the importance it deserves by streamlining the conflicting and misaligned regulations, multiple oversight responsibilities, and fragmented funding streams that make it difficult for Coloradans access early care and education.  It aims to position Colorado in a way that allows for the effective and equitable integration of early childhood as a top priority for our state. 

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What is the expectation for community and stakeholder engagement during this transition?

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Substantial community engagement will be needed, especially from specific stakeholders and community voices who have content knowledge and lived experience that can inform the transition. Ultimately, the bill proposes a role for significant community input and existing state government leadership that is bigger than just determining the transitions of existing programs.

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What programs are going to move to the new department? What is the scope and focus of the new state agency? Will it be inclusive of any / all programs and services impacting healthy child development during the early childhood period? Or will the focus be limited to child care and early learning (preschool) programs? Will it address a specific age range?

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Legislation will call out a more unified  administration of early childhood programs with a strong focus on preschool and child care as the areas that need the most alignment.  A bill this session would lead to the collaborative process which aims to identify what transitions need to occur and when.
 
Since children transition to the K-12 system around age 5, there is likely to be a primary focus on birth to five services. However, since early childhood programs extend to kids of other ages, community input will be essential in determining how to retain alignment and reduce fragmentation. The goal of this transition work will be to develop and deepen partnerships with existing state agencies and local governments, providers, and agencies to ensure that programs are fully aligned and experienced seamlessly for those involved.

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What is the role of the current departments during the transition and beyond?

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Legislation will likely identify a vital role for CDHS, CDPHE, and CDE in managing the transition, identifying what programs and services need to be better aligned, and ensuring seamless connections to programs at existing departments.

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Why aren’t you simply putting Proposition EE funding at an existing state agency (like CDE or CDHS)?

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The preschool policy development process and stakeholder discussions have resulted in the belief that even the smallest governance changes could result in unintended consequences. Therefore, implementing Prop EE as a funding stream would not effectively address the needs that the early childhood community has so clearly identified. In other words, addressing the system-wide impacts of implementing Prop EE and elevating the entire early childhood experience requires thinking outside our existing state agency structures.

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How will this preserve the needs of children who are dual language learners, have special needs, or are in families with low incomes? How will this include those not yet supported by current state systems, including informal care arrangements and family, friend, and neighbor care, to ensure safety and quality early experiences for all? 

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The bill will explicitly call out the needs and opportunities to better serve children who have historically struggled to access quality early childhood services, and will address the importance of protecting the rights and needs of children with special needs. As the bill moves through the process and subsequent implementation, it will be important for advocates and affected community members to ensure that a comprehensive vision of supporting ALL children’s early childhood, care, and learning needs are met. Specific strategies, programs, or systems that can be better aligned in support of this vision should be highlighted by advocates for inclusion in a new approach to supporting early childhood. 

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Is this just an expansion of government?

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No, it’s an improved organization of early childhood governance. The alignment of systems in a new department will reduce the inefficiencies and challenges of navigating multiple bureaucracies. The stakeholder engagement process outlined in the bill will consider what early care and learning programs, agencies, and funding streams should move to the new department. These changes will result in a more coordinated early childhood administration at the state, local, and service delivery levels.

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Would this just create a third set of requirements?

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No, part of the planning process will examine integration and alignment of quality standards, eligibility rules, and funding activities across early care and learning programs, instead of adding more programmatic requirements. 

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Is this an opportunity to align ECE teacher licensure to birth through five? Rather than ages 0-8?

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Yes, this is an example of where some of the misalignment can be directly addressed during the transition process so that subsequent  policy changes can reduce the fragmentation and barriers. 

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IWill a new agency be too expensive?

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No. Although there will be initial infrastructure costs of establishing a new state early childhood department, the long-term savings to the state of more efficient service delivery will compensate for these costs.

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How will a new agency ensure alignment with K-12? 

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During the planning process, CDE and other stakeholders will focus on the new department’s coordination and collaboration with education systems at the state and local levels that promote a much more seamless alignment between early childhood and K-12 than exists under the status quo. 

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How will quality standards change? 

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During the planning process, state agencies and community stakeholders will consider recommended approaches to align various program quality standards to ensure all young children have access to effective services that support positive outcomes. Different program requirements in several areas of Colorado could be standardized to ease public and provider administration and family understanding of what is required, regardless of the funding source. 

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How will you ensure there are not additional burdens on providers/families?

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A new early childhood department would be responsible for working with other state agencies, federal partners, counties and local school districts, to blend, braid, stack and layer funds to provide seamless funding for families eligible for assistance under multiple programs. The new department would be well-positioned to provide and implement a common application form to allow parents and providers a single point of entry to access the early childhood program for which they’re eligible. 

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Where will specific programs fit in this new structure? 

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The stakeholder engagement process will consider which early childhood programs, funds, and agencies to recommend becoming part of a new state early childhood department. A wide range of voices, from existing state government and agency staff, local partners such as counties and school districts, advocates, providers, and parents will help inform these decisions that will ultimately be made by the legislature and governor next year. 

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How will the state ensure adequate capacity (workforce, facilities, etc.) to serve all 4-year olds with preschool whose families want them to have it? 

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The Governor, legislature, and state agencies have a high priority on expanding the early childhood workforce to address existing shortages and increased demand expected from the increased number of four-year-olds accessing universal preschool in 2023. Recently-passed and proposed budget measures, legislation, and use of new federal stimulus funding demonstrate this priority, which we anticipate will continue over the next several years. In addition, many state agencies are contributing to early childhood capacity through best practices in the field, grant opportunities, and regulatory policies

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Will county authority be reduced under a new state department that is coordinating child care with universal preschool?

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A bill this session would not change Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) decisions made by counties under current state law.  To achieve a more seamless coordination of early childhood programs and services, the goal is that child care subsidies will be blended with early learning programs and funds, as appropriate, by the new state early childhood department. Counties will play an important role in both informing the best ways to achieve this vision. 

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How will the new state agency be governed? Will there be a State Board? What will be the role of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission?

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The transition process called for in the bill will require an assessment of the pros and cons of establishing a new regulatory board for the department, as well as recommendations to address a potential state board. The Early Childhood Leadership Commission is proposed to move from CDHS to the new department in the bill. Whether the scope of responsibilities for the ECLC change would need to be addressed in the transition process and subsequent legislation, including whether it is best suited to take on various roles. 

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What is the process and timeline for implementing changes to preschool, including the new universal preschool program funded by Prop EE and how funding must be allocated in the new preschool model? 

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The bill specifically requires  a transition plan to be developed over the next year to address the implementation of universal, voluntary preschool statewide, and  requires specific policy changes to be included in the transition plan and implementing legislation. These policies are in this year’s bill and reflect the community feedback provided during the preschool policy development process. They specifically include requirements that the new preschool program: 

  • Align existing and anticipated funding for preschool and other early childhood programs to achieve a streamlined preschool experience
  • Align with the voter-approved requirements in Prop EE regarding mixed delivery, parent choice, birth to five alignment, and other voter-approved provisions 
  • Ensure programs focus on developmentally-appropriate, whole-child, quality experiences that meet the needs of diverse learners and those who have faced historical barriers to accessing preschool
  • Ensure preschool funding is allocated to both school-based and community-based preschool program providers 
  • Ensure early care and education funding is blended to enable communities to support full-day services for working families and additional targeting of dollars to support children from low-income families or at-risk of not being school-ready. These program funds should also be blended with Head Start programs, as applicable, to contribute to a full day of early childhood care and education programming
  • Support integration with local systems and infrastructure, continuous quality improvement, recruitment and retention of the early childhood workforce, and access to comprehensive services. 
  • A program evaluation of the state-level preschool program that includes the program’s effects on child and family outcomes. 

The transition plan and enacting legislation next session will need to address these provisions and requirements in more detail. We expect those additional specifics will be addressed prior to the implementation of Prop EE funding in fall of 2023. 

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