An Amazing Legislative Session for Young Children in Colorado

When we wrapped up the 2018 legislative session last year, we wrote about how young children were among the biggest winners after one of the biggest sessions for children in recent memory. In a reminder to advocates to always remain bold in our ambitions, the 2019 session resulted in even more dramatic investments in young children.

Following the election of Gov. Jared Polis, who campaigned with early childhood as a central plank in his platform to move Colorado forward, decades of work to make substantial expansions of early care and education ramped up quickly. In his proposed budget and State of the State, Gov. Polis proposed the highest per child spending on early learning of any state in the country and, as noted below, largely succeeded in achieving those proposals and more. The Governor’s proposal to fully fund full-day kindergarten and expand preschool advanced this legislative session alongside a series of other policy proposals brought forward by advocates and individual state legislators and resulted in dramatic new investments and policy changes for Colorado’s youngest children.

  • HB 19-1262 fully funds FDK students as 1.0 (up from 0.58) within the school finance formula. It prohibits schools from charging tuition and updates the statute to ensure effective implementation. It also reallocates more than 5,200 ECARE slots from FDK to preschool access. HB 19-1055, while primarily focused on school construction, includes provisions for allocating $25 million in reserve funds for FDK implementation on a one-time, per pupil basis.
  • In a recognition that we have to do much more to support the basic economic security of our early childhood educations, HB 19-1005 establishes a refundable, annual tax credit for credentialed early childhood educators working at qualified facilities. The tax credit is tied to a credential level and reaches a maximum of a $1,000 tax credit for an early childhood teacher. This will be an additional $5.3 million in support for qualified early childhood educators.
  • In recognition that Colorado is seeing a dramatic loss in infant and family child care, SB 19-063 requires the Office of Early Childhood and the Early Childhood Leadership Commission to engage specific, diverse stakeholders and develop a strategic action plan to address the shortage of infant child care and family home child care by December 2019.
  • HB 19-1013 extends for an additional eight years, Colorado’s innovative, state-level child care expenses tax credit targeted to families earning less than $25,000 who cannot benefit from the general state tax credit due to the non-refundability of the federal tax credit.
  • To put an additional tool in local communities’ toolboxes to raise revenue to provide early childhood services, HB 19-1052 now allows local communities to collaborate to establish special districts to provide birth to 8 services across the domains of the EC Framework.
  • After four years of coordinated advocacy and stakeholder engagement, Colorado’s Equity in Early Childhood Coalition succeeded in passing HB 19-1194 which establishes standards for school removal (out of school suspension & expulsion) from public school & state pre-K through second grade focused on preserving health and safety.
  • Colorado also expanded pathways for high school students to pursue careers as early childhood educators (HB 19-1137), established supports including pilots for child care for those pursuing substance use disorder treatment (HB 19-1193), funded outreach for the census (HB 19-1239), and will fund (with private donations), and created 529 college savings accounts for each child adopted or born in Colorado after Jan. 1, 2020 (HB 19-1280).
  • Colorado’s budget also included the sixth straight year of increased funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, funding to address caseload growth in Early Intervention, and additional resources for family resource centers.

As always, there were missed opportunities to support families with young children that advocates look forward to revisiting in the years to come.

  • HB 19-1333 would have instituted a tax on liquid nicotine and increased Colorado’s low tobacco tax to address Colorado’s sky-high teen vaping rate and to generate funds that would have dramatically expanded preschool, as well as mental health and extended learning programs.
  • HB 19-1312 would have improved Colorado’s last-in-the-nation kindergarten measles immunization rate.
  • HB 19-1164 would have funded, for families with children under 6 years old, a state-level Child Tax Credit.

It is worth noting that every single one of the successful early childhood proposals above benefited not just from bipartisan support, but bipartisan co-sponsorship. We are fortunate in Colorado to have both Republican and Democratic leaders who listen to their communities and are responding to the challenges working families are facing by supporting them and their young children. As we look ahead to the 2020 legislative session, we anticipate additional bold steps to advance access to quality early care and education, support young children’s mental and behavioral health, and continue support for our early childhood workforce.

Bill Jaeger, Vice President of Early Childhood and Policy Initiatives, Colorado Children's Campaign