The Colorado legislative session concluded in the second week in May with a number of policy wins headed for the Governor’s signature.
These new laws will improve access to quality child care, improve educational outcomes in elementary schools, improve knowledge about handling behavioral challenges more effectively, and reduce the background check burden for early childhood staff. Colorado legislators and advocates continued the bipartisan work of ensuring that all of our state’s children are healthy, valued and thriving through a quality early childhood system.
Specifically, Colorado realized several significant policy wins for children and families in the state’s legislative session, including:
- Child Care Expense Tax Credits for Low-Income Families (HB17-1002) Three years ago, Colorado adopted a reimbursable tax credit for low-income families who incur child care expenses so that they can work. The passage of this bill extends the sunsetting policy for another three years, ensuring that 35,000 low-income Coloradoans can continue to offset their child care expenses by more than $6 million each year with a tax credit.
- Early Childhood Needs Assessments (SB17-103) In an effort to turn around low-performing elementary schools, schools districts will conduct early childhood needs assessments and invest in research based early learning strategies.
- Professional Development Grants to Reduce Suspensions and Expulsions (HB17-1211) A new grant program will allow schools to implement professional development strategies that are culturally responsive and developmentally appropriate to promote alternatives to early childhood suspension and expulsion.
- Expanded Eligibility for Behavioral Health Professionals into Elementary Schools (SB17-068) By expanding eligibility for the School Behavioral Health Professionals and Counselor Corps grant, elementary school will have access to behavioral health counselors.
- Alternative Educator Licensure Programs (HB17-1332) Community-based early childhood educators are now able to enroll in alternative educator licensure programs.
- Continuance of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (HB17-1106) The Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC) will continue for another six years. The ECLC acts as the states’ advisory body on all early childhood issues by providing guidance, leadership and expertise to policy makers, state agencies and advocates.
- Single Background Checks for Early Childhood Educators (HB17-1135) Only one set of background checks will be required for early childhood educators working for multiple sites governed by a single entity (e.g., a school district or multi-site child care provider).
Unfortunately, not all bills to improve care and education in the early childhood years were successful. Those failing to make it out the legislature include bills that would have reduced the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions in early childhood, provided funding for universal access to full-day kindergarten, prohibited corporal punishment in public schools and licensed child care, and established a strategic planning process for a comprehensive vision for education in Colorado including early learning.
There were several significant increases in the Colorado state budget, including:
- $2.5 million to expand access to child care subsidies via the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program
- $1 million to continue the evidence-based Healthy Steps home visitation program that provides services to 1,300 vulnerable families
- Funding to increase the number of pregnancy-related depression screenings for new mothers that are offered during well-child pediatric visits
- An increase in education funding, including per pupil funding increases for the Colorado Preschool Program
Colorado also took a big step towards tackling provisions in the state constitution that have put financial restraints on the state’s budget. SB17-267 addresses some of Colorado’s self-imposed budget limitations by: eliminating a $500 million cut to hospitals, adding funding for rural schools, and changing what funding is counted toward our state revenue limit. This bill doesn’t solve all of our state funding challenges but it will help stave off difficult cuts for Colorado’s children and families.
All told, almost two dozen pieces of legislation and budget amendments were introduced to address the needs of the youngest Coloradoans and it was another strong year for early childhood policy and funding in Colorado. Advocates continue to see increased interest and engagement from our policymakers regarding the importance of the early years and we look forward to gearing up for another big session in January 2018.
–Bill Jaeger, Colorado Children’s Campaign, and
Lauren Heintz, Clayton Early Learning