Colorado Is on the Verge of Passing Free Pre-K for All

Colorado Democrats are moving closer to accomplishing what the Biden administration could not after centrist corporate Democrats’ sabotage of the president’s signature Build Back Better legislation: establishing a universal preschool program.

On March 25, the Colorado House of Representatives voted 43-19Pass an 485-page billThis legislation was introduced earlier in the month and would create a new state agency, The Department of Early Childhood, as well as a universal, statewide preschool program. Now, the legislation is headed to the Senate Education Committee.

The new department will be launched this spring and the Colorado Universal Preschool Program will begin in 2023. The program provides free preschool for all children up to 10 hours per week, the year they enter kindergarten. Under the bill, parents may choose a preschool provider in the community from public school classrooms or private preschools, a model called “mixed delivery.”

The plan would greatly expand preschool access in Colorado while making it easier for parents to enroll. It could also provide a model for other blue states looking to solve longstanding child care issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which dealt a disproportionate blow to women’s participation in the workforce.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Democratic State Rep. Emily Sirota of Denver, acknowledged the preschool bill still needs fine-tuning, but said progress is being made on an ambitious effort. “​My heart is just bursting right now,” she said last week during closing remarks before the House Education Committee. “We’re going to be an example, I think, for the rest of the country about how to do this.”

Only eight states and Washington, D.C. are currently available offerSome form of universal pre-kindergarten for children as young as four years old. Colorado’s effort follows on the heels of similar moves in California, which began implementingA transitional kindergarten program was implemented last year.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and early childhood advocates championed the Department of Early Childhood as well as the universal preschool program. If the legislation is passed, the twin efforts will be realized. projected to costThrough 2024, more than $365million. The new taxes on nicotine products that Colorado voters passed in 2020 would provide more than $190 million of this funding. Another $127 million would come from either the state’s general or education fund.

The legislation reflects almost a year of planning on the part of the governor’s office, lawmakers, state agencies, early childhood providers and advocates, and parents, all of whom weighed in on the plans during town halls cities across the state. Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed a measure laying the groundwork for developing the new department and preschool expansion, and Governor Polis signed a separate bill March 1 expediting the department’s launch. The state Early Childhood Leadership Commission was composed of key stakeholders from the state and issued recommendations. November January, and continues his work with state leaders as the transition proceeds.

But even as early childhood advocates, school districts and providers celebrate the plan, it is also prompting concerns about still unresolved details amid the preschool program’s fast-paced rollout. The program’s mixed-delivery model means big changes for school districts, who currently administer about three-quarters of state-funded preschool slots to about a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds.

In expanding the state’s current program to serve all children in the year before kindergarten private providers and nonprofits will now compete for additional slots. The model is being supported by districts, but there are still concerns and questions about how it will work in small communities.

Their concerns include whether there will still be enough providers to meet the new enrollment demand, as well as concerns about persistently low wages for early childhood educators.

Affordability and Wages

Since the pandemic began, Colorado has lost over 3,300 early childhood teachers. A spokesperson for Governor Polis told The Colorado SunThe state currently employs 20,325 early-childhood educators, down from 23,702 in 2019. The state expects that nearly 63,200 4-year olds will be eligible for the preschool program by 2023. This is down from the 23,702 early childhood educators in 2019. Sun reports.

While Democratic lawmakers plan to slowly “ramp up” the preschool program over time, persistent low wages for early childhood educators could hinder efforts to retain more preschool teachers if wages don’t rise significantly to keep pace with inflation. For example, entry-level teachers in Denver make as little as $15.87 an hourAccording to the reporting by the Sun. For many, those wages simply aren’t worth the stresses of the job. Along with dealing with challenging behavior in children since the outbreak of the pandemics, early childhood educators have to work intense hours, perform physically strenuous jobs, interact with a high number of unvaccinated people (since children under 5 can’t receive the COVID-19 vaccination), and serve children who have a wide range of needs.

Governor Polis and legislators argue that Proposition EE is a funding stream that allows providers to pay more teachers.

“Even before the pandemic, the field of early care and education, and providers were grossly underpaid…. Many of them were needing to take advantage of safety net programs to make ends meet,” said Angela Rothermel, deputy director of Early Milestones Colorado, an early childhood education advocacy group. “So, it was kind of an untenable situation before the pandemic, and then we then move into an era where programs are closing due to health shutdowns or families making different choices about things. It just exacerbated a lot of fiscal issues.”

Two-thirds of providers are not licensed surveyed by Early MilestonesNearly half of family child care home providers and a third of center-based providers stated they were likely to participate in this new preschool program. However, nearly one-third of center-based providers and nearly half the family child care home providers stated they doubt they would, citing concerns about cumbersome rules and requirements as well as low pay. Some providers claim that parent subsidies under the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program are too low.

Dawn Alexander, executive Director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, explains TruthoutPreschools continue to struggle to hire more early-childhood educators, even after the state provides funding. lowered credentialing requirements in December. She worries private providers could back out of the preschool program if educators become subject additional requirements, such as obtaining a bachelor’s degree. “[Lawmakers] have to make some accommodations there to equalize everything,” Alexander said. “If you want equal pay, then it makes sense to have equal training and that sort of thing, but it does present a significant problem for industry.”

Sirota, the State Representative for Bill Sponsors, hopes to resolve some of these issues through a separate bipartisan billThis would create an income credit of $500 to $1,000 that could be used to retain early childhood educators. It also includes additional funding streams that can be used to boost the early childhood workforce.

Early Milestones’s Rothermel remains optimistic that lawmakers like Sirota and advocates will continue to work through solutions that will allow the preschool program to grow. “This is very top of mind for everyone who’s doing this work at the state. No one is ignoring the question because we need to really think about the workforce issues if we want to have this program … ready for families in 2023. So, I think there’s a strong commitment to figure it out,” she tells Truthout.

That’s why dedicated funding streams are so crucial for state-level efforts to establish universal pre-K, not only to shore up the workforce but also to ensure affordability for parents and caregivers. Over the past 30 years, child care costs have risen at twice the rate that inflation. It is even more expensive in some states. can even cost moreRather than college tuition.

The demand for preschool services is still high. 92 percentEarly Milestones surveyed Colorado families and found that 80% would send their child to preschool if money wasn’t an issue. On average, families will save around $3,000 with the new preschool program. $4,300 a yearAccording to state estimates, the figure is.

Research has long highlighted the economic benefits of early childhood education. A report released this month by Moody’s Corp projected that policies such as paid family leave and universal pre-K could result in a $1 trillion boost to gross domestic product by 2028, if working-age women become able to participate in the paid workforce at the same rate they do in countries that have child care support systems, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Australia.

Nearly 200,000 people died in the United States during the first year of the pandemic. 3 million womenLeft the paid workforce. Two years later, most 6.6 million U.S. job openings created by President Joe Biden have gone to men. Labor Department. As of February 1, there were still 1.4 million fewer employed adult womenCompared to 500,000 adult men.

Governance and equity

Meanwhile, district leaders are working to resolve issues and concerns around how the preschool program’s mixed-delivery model will impact equity, especially concerning special education for children with disabilities.

Mat Aubuchon is the director for early childhood and elementary programs in Westminster Public Schools. He was also a member of the Early Childhood Education Leadership Commission. Truthout that while he’s not opposed to the mixed-delivery model, it remains crucial that placements for children with disabilities are determined on a case-by-case basis to ensure they will be appropriately served.

It’s still unclear whether private programs will provide essential speech therapy or other special education services required under specialized education plans in the same way that public school classrooms do. This could lead to children with disabilities being segregated in public schools in order to meet the requirements of federal special education law if their families can’t afford specialized private programs that offer such services.

Aubuchon says lawmakers need to make “sure that when we pass policy around mixed delivery, it accounts for the fact that some of these specialized decisions are going to have to be made at the individual family level with the family, the provider and make sure that the environment is right for the student.”

Other sticking points still being ironed out include concerns over how the Department of Early Childhood’s executive director will be empowered to determine how state laws should be implemented. Some educators are concerned that the current structure does not provide enough accountability.

Officials from the state counter that the new department will have a rule-making advisory board and that the executive Director would have to adhere to state laws that require public hearings and comment. The legislation would also balance oversight of universal preschool between state and local authorities by creating “local coordinating organizations” tasked with managing funding for local preschool programs and supporting providers, families and local governments in administering the program.

Aubuchon is in favor of a rule-making body and stressed the importance local coordinating organisations, noting some communities have multiple school district and city jurisdictions. It’s important that state officials provide enough time, he says, for local coordinating organizations to figure out what the preschool program will look like on the local level.

“Districts are very supportive of the concept,” Aubuchon said. “We really liked the concept of aligning some of these programs that have been working a little bit in isolation for the past couple decades. There’s a real opportunity here to make things better for our early childhood students…. We just have to figure out the logistics.”