Young children are big winners of the 2018 session

Written by: Bill Jaeger
Date Posted: May 10, 2018

As the 2018 regular session of the Colorado General Assembly wraps up, we’re adding up all the wins for Colorado kids and families this year. Young children are among the biggest winners.

This session saw significant policy action and investments in the financing of early childhood learning and development, building on recent years of success. Every single win had bipartisan sponsorshipas well as bipartisan votes of support in each chamber, which is a testament to the broad support for early childhood our Colorado legislators share, no matter their party.

The Colorado Children’s Campaign has been fortunate to partner with advocates, policymakers, and community leaders around the state for the past 33 years to raise issues facing children at the Colorado State Capitol. Over more than three decades, we have seen ups and downs when it comes to policy changes and public investments targeted to our youngest Coloradans.

Despite those ups and downs, the clear trend has been toward an increased understanding of how early childhood is a period of rapid brain development and when we invest in children and families at the earliest stages, we all benefit in years to come. Over the years, the many seeds that have been planted by early childhood organizations, community leaders (especially those in our It’s About Kids Network), and everyday advocates throughout state continue to grow and bear fruit.

Due to the coordinated efforts of many partners  inside and outside the Capitol, we’re excited about several major policy wins for early childhood this session, which included the following bipartisan pieces of legislation:

  • Promoting child care availability: HB 18-1004 (Coleman & Wilson/Tate & Kefalas) continues the expiring Child Care Contribution Tax Credit to 2025, a vital incentive that is anticipated to result in more than $60 million in investments in child care availability and supporting youth serving organizations. This innovative Colorado-created tax credit has had a 20-year history of supporting early care and education, before and after school programs, early childhood scholarships, and other youth-serving organizations.
  • Increasing the affordability of child careHB 18-1208 (Duran & Winter/Martinez Humenik) expands access to the state’s refundable Child Care Expenses Tax Credit resulting in more than $3.5M in new investments that will help working families better afford child care. HB 18-1335 (Young/Lundberg) will help address the issue of child care affordability by expanding access to the continuity and quality of services provided via the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). HB 1335 will be coupled with a 22% budget increase for child care assistance over last year and the program has seen a 52% increase over just five years ago.
  • Preschool & Full-day kindergarten: HB 18-1379 (Pettersen & Wilson/Hill) expands access to the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) and full-day Kindergarten for CPP-eligible children by investing $4.2 million in an additional 1,000 slots via the School Finance Act. This is the state’s first expansion of preschool and full-day Kindergarten since 2014 and represents an important down payment in addressing the waiting list of thousands of children whose families are trying to access quality early learning via the Colorado Preschool Program, but cannot due to underfunding.
  • Substitute child care teachers: SB 18-162 (Martinez Humenik/Buckner & Wilson) increases access to substitute child care teachers so that changes in early care and education teachers’ schedules do not create a disruption in families’ child care arrangements.
  • Targeting access to early learning: HB 18-1134 (Pettersen & Wilson/Merrifield & Martinez Humenik) ensures that Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) eligibility standards apply to kindergarten children who are funded with Early Childhood At-Risk Enhancement (ECARE) program slots. This ensures that, with limited dollars, we target resources to the students most likely to benefit from quality early learning but may face the greatest obstacles in accessing it.
  • Alignment of early childhood quality initiativesSB 18-099 (Merrifield & Priola/Pettersen & Wilson) will streamline our state’s quality improvement initiatives for early care and education settings, bringing them up-to-date with current practices and targeting resources to give us the best return on quality improvement efforts.
  • Ensuring screening access for newborn infantsHB 18-1006 [Hamner & Liston/Gardner & Moreno] strengthens and protects access to timely medical intervention if a baby screens positive at birth for a potentially life-threatening genetic or metabolic condition and it enhances the existing newborn hearing screening program by facilitating better care coordination among families and medical providers. Newborn screening is a cost‐effective policy that leads to earlier intervention and access to lifesaving care.
  • Continuing to prioritize early childhood and school readinessSB 18-163 [Martinez Humenik & Merrifield/Pettersen & Wilson] extends the work of the bipartisan standing legislative commission focused on early childhood, the Early Childhood and School Readiness Legislative Commission, which was set to expire this year.
  • Expanding access to abuse prevention training: HB 18-1064 [Michaelson Jenet/Coram & Fields] will expand access to training programs for early childhood providers and others working with young children to help prevent child sexual abuse.
  • Coordinating services for children with developmental delaysHB 18-1333 [Young/Lambert] will result in greater coordination between the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Human Services and will streamline the process of Early Intervention evaluations to ensure that our youngest children are connected to the services they need to support their healthy development.

Coupled with these important policy changes, the legislature also made significant investments in young children a priority. Early childhood priorities included in this year’s spending package included:

  • An increase of $21 million for the Office of Early Childhood to improve access to quality early care and education via the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).
  • A new investment of $500,000 for the Office of Early Childhood to support the training, education, and certification of our early care and education workforce.
  • A $2 million increase for the Department of Education to expand the Expelled and At-Risk Student Services (EARSS) grant program to mitigate the use and impact of suspensions and expulsions.
  • A $600,000 investment for the Office of Early Childhood to expand access to an evidence-based parenting and teacher training program, the Incredible Years, that advances early childhood social and emotional development and behavioral health.
  • A $1 million increase for Colorado’s system of Early Childhood Councils to support their local work coordinating early childhood services.

There were certainly missed opportunities (see, for example, HB 18-1232 [Young/Coram & Kerr] and HB 18-1420 [Hamner & Rankin/Scott]) to support young children and we know we have much work still to do to ensure every chance for every child. But, we are hopeful that the positive momentum in support of early childhood continues throughout this election year and into a new gubernatorial administration’s early priorities.  In order for that to happen, however, advocates and community leaders must continue to advocate at the State Capitol and elevate the role of public investments as a place where young children and families are prioritized. The Children’s Campaign looks forward to continuing to be at the front of that charge and working in partnership with all of you, leaders from around the state, advocates from many sectors, and local communities to place children at the center of our state’s priorities.

Bill Jaeger

About Bill Jaeger

Bill Jaeger, Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Children's Campaign, has spent the past decade teaching, studying, and working on issues in public education and public policy. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education before working as a public school teacher and administrator in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area for several years. Bill also holds master’s degrees in public policy and political science and worked in several positions in the non-profit sector prior to joining the Colorado Children’s Campaign as Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives. Bill is a graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his wife, son, daughter, and golden retriever.