Mike Van Meter, who trained to become a preschool substitute teacher, takes notes during his student observation at the Garfield Montessori School in Denver. He was part of the first cohort of older adults training for a second career after retirement through the Early Childhood Service Corps. The program is taught by the University of Colorado, Denver, and graduates receive an early childhood teacher certification. (Courtesy of the Early Childhood Service Corps.)

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With just over a year until Colorado begins providing free preschool to 4-year-olds statewide, state lawmakers want to inject $100 million into efforts to beef up the early childhood workforce and create more slots for young children.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, a group of lawmakers announced the legislation, which would be funded with federal COVID relief dollars.

The money would go toward several existing grant programs, including one to help child care providers with operational costs and another to help new providers open and existing providers expand. It would also create a new program to support and train people who care for young children but are not licensed by the state.

“This bill is a massive investment in ensuring we as a state rise to the occasion of helping families out, by allowing parents to work, by allowing single parents to return to the workforce,” said state Rep. Alex Valdez, a Denver Democrat who sponsored the bill. “COVID-19 gutted our child care workforce and we need to rebuild it.”

The just-introduced bill comes at both a tenuous and momentous time for Colorado’s early childhood industry. Many child care providers are still reeling financially from the pandemic and struggling to find employees willing to work long hours for low wages. At the same time, there’s a sense of excitement as Colorado plans a massive expansion of state-funded preschool with funding from proceeds of a nicotine tax approved by voters in 2020.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat Colorado covering early childhood education. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Denver Post. She holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University...