Colorado has a monumental opportunity to set up every child and their family for a lifetime of opportunity from birth, through kindergarten and beyond.
With the passage of Proposition EE in 2020 and the creation of the Department of Early Childhood in 2021, Coloradans overwhelmingly showed their support for increasing access, affordability and quality of early childhood experiences for Colorado’s kids.
However, to provide the best experience for both families and providers, Colorado needs a set of policies that direct the work of the new Department of Early Childhood and universal preschool program.
Data has long demonstrated how critical the early years are to shaping a child’s development, education, and life journeys. During this time, children acquire new skills and knowledge, which serves as a building block for how they absorb information and interact with the world around them.
This also can be a time when families have the least amount of support and face the greatest obstacles to opportunity. That’s why we must make it easier for all families to access the programs and services that set children up for success from the very beginning.
Based on the unanimously approved recommendations from the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, House Bill 22-1295 ensures that families and providers have access to: one comprehensive early childhood system designed to support healthy, thriving children; one unified application for early childhood services that matches families to funding and a variety of providers; and one universal preschool program with the potential to impact roughly 400,000 children in the first 10 years.
Currently, Colorado’s early childhood programs are spread across multiple state agencies, each with varying eligibility requirements and funding streams, leaving families and providers facing unnecessary barriers and confusion.
With so many different eligibility requirements, many families do not know what programs and services are available to them or are forced to opt out when their unique needs aren’t met. Providers also experience this disaggregated system and, despite the significant need for greater capacity, face challenges opening programs and providing much-needed services.
Additionally, when families must visit multiple offices to access the programs and services designed to strengthen their family, it can result in time away from work, children and delays in their pursuit of happiness and wellbeing.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We have spent decades working to transform the early childhood experience in Colorado and know that programs must be family-centered to achieve exceptional results. Having a system that is easy to navigate, offers high quality care that is affordable and equitably funded across a variety of programs and services is vital.
If passed into law, House Bill 22-1295 would allow families to fill out one simple application for early care and education services so they can easily choose from a variety of school-, community-, and home-based providers. This will, starting in the fall of 2023, make it possible for Colorado families to access one of the main requirements of Proposition EE, which gives Colorado families at least 10 hours of high-quality preschool programming per week, with additional programming for those who would benefit most.
Colorado does have some examples that demonstrate the power of a more streamlined early childhood infrastructure.
In Jefferson County, families can more easily access an array of programs and services such as home visits, interventions and other resources. In Summit County, Early Childhood Options has served as a central hub for early childhood services since 1991.
Shared-services models such as Early Learning Ventures have made it easier for providers to focus their time and energy on delivering the quality child care families expect. Pioneer programs such as the Denver Preschool Program offer families a centralized approach to enrolling in the preschool programs best suited to their children’s learning needs.
We must expand these opportunities statewide, and we have a real opportunity to leverage this ingenuity to better serve our children.
You don’t have to be a parent or an early childhood provider to benefit from Colorado having an outstanding early childhood system. Whether you’re working or in school, have interests in business, policy, or philanthropy –– ensuring children access to quality early childhood experiences affects the workforce of today as well as the workforce of tomorrow.
High-quality early care and education ensures the next generation has proper brain development and a strong and equitable start. And if you want Colorado to be a place where we can all live, work and reach our highest potential, it’s up to all of us to make it our reality.
Now is the time to seize the opportunity and pass House Bill 22-1295 to ensure a brighter future for thousands of children now and for generations to come.
Anna Jo Garcia Haynes, of Denver, is president emeritus of Mile High Early Learning Centers. David Merage, of Cherry Hills Village, is Chairman of Consolidated Investment Group and co-founder of the David & Laura Merage Foundation.
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