Kerensa DeHerrera, right, is one of four child care workers at the Southwest Family YMCA who are part of Colorado's effort to provide free child care for emergency workers battling the coronavirus pandemic in the state. On March 24, about 18 kids are at this location, ranging from pre-school age to 12-years-old. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

The latest round of federal COVID relief money will begin making its way to Colorado’s 4,700 licensed child care providers this fall, with a sizable chunk earmarked to reduce parent tuition costs.

The funding for early childhood — nearly $500 million from the federal COVID aid package known as the American Rescue Plan — represents a massive one-time infusion into a low-wage, high-turnover industry that’s increasingly recognized as essential for working parents, employers, and the economy.

The money comes as child care businesses work to recover from the turmoil of the pandemic and state leaders prepare for two ambitious initiatives: the creation of a new stand-alone early childhood department by next summer and the launch of free universal preschool in 2023.

Grace Eckel, senior policy adviser for the state’s Office of Early Childhood, said of the federal stimulus money, “This is a truly historic level of investment in early childhood.”

She said the annual budget for Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood is about $200 million, meaning the American Rescue Plan funding is more than double what the office typically spends on early childhood efforts in a year.

Two previous federal COVID relief packages — one approved just after the pandemic hit and one nine months later — plus a special state appropriation have also helped Colorado’s early childhood industry stay afloat during the pandemic. Those three efforts earmarked just over $200 million to early childhood initiatives.

State officials will spend the new $472 million in federal early childhood money in two stages. They outlined their plans for the first phase — $275 million to be released over the next nine months — at an online town hall meeting Thursday. They’ve not yet announced how they’ll spend the remaining $197 million, but Eckel said it will go out starting in late spring.


Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

Senior reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado. Email: Twitter: @annschimke