On A Path Toward Quality Early Learning and Development in Colorado

The 2015 session of the Colorado General Assembly saw Colorado continue on its path toward improving access to quality early learning and development programs for vulnerable children and families. Advocates, families, and children had several exciting victories to point to when the session concluded the first week in May.

Policy victories included:

  • Pay for Success: Colorado established a Pay for Success financing program (HB 15-1317). This new funding mechanism allows the state to leverage private and philanthropic dollars to fund social programs that only get repaid by the government if certain agreed upon outcomes are achieved. This bill opens the door to new investments in early childhood and prevention-oriented health services for vulnerable children and families.
  • School Readiness Assessment:  The legislature introduced 11 bills related to student assessments this year, some of which would have eliminated or weakened Colorado’s seven-year effort to implement school readiness assessments for all students entering kindergarten. The final bipartisan compromise bill (HB 15-1323) protected school readiness assessments and early literacy requirements and streamlined the system to be less burdensome to educators and programs.
  • Licensing: A bill that would have eliminated all government regulations for all family child care homes in Colorado and some centers serving fewer than 10 children was defeated.  Families and children would have lost the protections afforded by requiring criminal background checks, training requirements, sex offender registry requirements and child abuse and neglect record checks. The defeat of this bill (SB15-70) preserves the health and safety of children in these child care programs.

There were also several increases in investments for early care and education in the state budget, including:

  • An increase in funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) to support the implementation of legislative reforms enacted in Colorado’s landmark HB 14-1317. This year’s budget includes increases to the child care subsidy program, ongoing funding for a child care “cliff effect” pilot program, funds to make necessary changes to the state data system to support the CCCAP reforms, and an additional $1.3 million for a 1.7 percent child care provider rate increase.  These investments in Colorado’s child care subsidy program equate to a net 115% increase in state funding for child care over the past two legislative sessions.
  • $338,200 to establish a new micro loan program designed to increase access to child care in rural and underserved areas.
  • $250,000 to issue grants to improve the health, safety, and quality of family, friend and neighbor care and, ultimately, increase the supply of family child care in underserved communities.
  • $750,000 to improve the coordination and provision of family support services, including those primarily offered through Colorado’s Family Resource Centers.
  • $306 million increase in K-12 spending, including targeted resources for at-risk children.
  • $1.2 million targeted to increasing access to immunizations through local public health offices and modifications to Colorado’s immunization information system that will help families and providers ensure children are up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • A $3.7 million investment in early intervention services to address rapidly growing caseload demands.

Left on the committee room floor, however, were several bills that would have improved access to quality early childhood services. Bills that would have provided funding for universal access to full-day kindergarten, increased the number of Colorado Preschool Program slots, provided scholarships to early childhood educators all failed to make it to the Governor’s desk.  These bills, despite most having bipartisan support, failed in Colorado’s increasingly strained fiscal environment. Our state’s “fiscal thicket” of constitutional provisions that constrain new investments will continue to challenge the early childhood system in the coming year.

Though the state has shown consistent economic growth, certain provisions in the state constitution have put financial restraints on the state’s budget which can make it difficult, absent policy change, to increase funding for existing successful programs or to fund new initiatives.  These challenges will require the ongoing work and attention of advocates to find a path forward that can provide the budget flexibility needed to address the needs of Colorado’s children and families.

Colorado’s early childhood advocates look forward to building on the momentum of this past session and remain dedicated to collaboratively seeking out policy solutions that will help support the healthy, safety, and well-being of Colorado children and families.

-Bill Jaeger
Vice President, Early Childhood Initiatives
Colorado Children’s Campaign

Lauren Heintz
Policy Specialist, Clayton Early Learning
(July 27, 2015)