Eli, left, and Noah, both 4, play at You be You Early Learning in Aurora on Jan. 19, 2022. The mobile preschool is parked in a public housing complex, where it serves people in the neighborhood for free. (Eli Imadali for Colorado Newsline)
In one of the most expensive states for child care, Colorado lawmakers want to invest about $100 million of the federal COVID-19 relief money they received last year into expanding available spots at care centers.
Bipartisan legislation unveiled Wednesday would also include funding and training for the informal and unlicensed “family, friend and neighbor” providers who serve students across the state.
Sens. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, and Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, are leading on this legislation, Senate Bill 22-213, with Reps. Alex Valdez, a Denver Democrat, and Kerry Tipper, a Democrat from Lakewood. Tipper kicked off a Wednesday news conference on SB-213 by sharing her personal struggle accessing child care for her 18-month-old daughter. After her daughter was born, she said, she realized she was 467th on the wait list for care.
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“This session I was finally able to secure child care for my daughter the day before we started the session,” Tipper said. “It was down to the wire, and my story is not unique.”
The bill would use money from the American Rescue Act Plan that state lawmakers designated last year for economic recovery and relief. It would spend $50 million on grants to help sustain existing child care providers; $19 million on grants to new and expanding providers; $15 million on programs to recruit and retain child care workers, including scholarships and loan forgiveness for early childhood educators; and $10 million on grants for employer-based child care.
Another $4.5 million would specifically go toward support programs aimed at strengthening “family, friend, and neighbor providers.” Community-based organizations and nonprofits would use some of the funding to train these informal child care providers on best practices. The state would use some money for technical assistance, enabling informal providers who may lack experience with bureaucratic processes to get free help applying for licenses and grant funding.
“Throughout the pandemic, more and more families have struggled … to find care,” Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, said at the news conference. “But even before the pandemic, families have chosen to trust their parents, their family members. They’ve chosen to trust their friends and their neighbors to care for their kids.”
Child Care Aware of America ranked Colorado as the third-least affordable state in the U.S. for center-based infant care in a report based on 2019 data. It ranked as the fourth-least affordable for center-based toddler care.
A Colorado family with two children spends an average of 14% of its annual income on child care, according to a fact sheet from the White House. The cost of child care represents an even bigger burden for single-parent households.
“Too often we find that it’s the woman in the household that has the burden of trying to figure out day care, and it’s not easy, especially if you are a woman of color or if you’re a single parent,” Fields said.
Democratic state lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Jared Polis have made early childhood programs a key priority this session. Legislation establishing the responsibilities for the state’s new Department of Early Childhood and laying the groundwork for statewide universal preschool recently passed the House and Senate and is on its way to the governor’s desk.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Brighton, argued that the planning process was rushed and would leave families unable to access needed early childhood services: “They are the ones that are going to suffer,” Kirkmeyer said April 14 before the Senate voted to pass that legislation.
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