Let’s Solve the Child Care and Early Education Crisis in Colorado

Colorado Child Care

Photo: Susan Warner/Save the Children. 

You might already know that early childhood education (ECE) programs are essential for the healthy development of young children. But did you know that these program are crucial for helping parents stay in the workforce?

According to research, children who attend high-quality early childhood education programs are less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be held back a grade and more likely to graduate high school than their peers who did not have access to such programs. There is also evidence that the social-emotional skills children gain through preschool contribute to their success later in life. After all, students with these skills are more capable of managing their behaviors and emotions and are more likely to remain engaged in their learning environment.

Child Care  and Early Education in Colorado

Here in Colorado, we are experiencing an extreme lack of accessible child care. Currently, 51% of Coloradans live in a child care desert – otherwise known as a neighborhood or community where there are more than three children for every available childcare slot. And in Colorado, child care costs are comparable to the cost of college tuition, with families being asked to pay $1,500-$2,000/month.

As a current nanny and former early childhood educator, I have seen the effects of these disparities first-hand. For the parents I work for, the stress of enrolling their little ones in quality preschool is great. Neighborhood preschools are overpacked, leaving them to fight for the few slots available in out-of-neighborhood or costly, private schools. And there are waitlists, which families I know have had their names on for up to two years before their children would even be old enough to attend.

Just this year I stood outside at 4 am, for four hours, to ensure the two soon-to-be preschoolers I nanny would have a slot. While we were successful, our success meant that two other children did not secure spots at that school. Perhaps they didn’t secure a spot at any school.

Finding an Answer

This disparity is due in part to a shortage of qualified, licensed early childhood educators. Obtaining the level of education necessary is an expensive, lengthy process, but the pay in return tends to be low. The overall lack of incentives deter many individuals from entering this field. And many who are in the field are denied qualifications if they do not have a degree or license.

ECE programs are an investment worth making for our current workforce and the workforce of the future. Fortunately, our state leaders agree. On Feb. 4, the Colorado General Assembly Education Committee met to hear testimony for the Supports for Early Childhood Educator Workforce bill (HB20-1053). Susan Hill, a Save the Children Action Network volunteer, consultant on early childhood education and special needs and an instructor of early childhood education at Arapahoe Community College, spoke at the committee hearing on February 4.

Susan stated that through her work as an educator she sees that “…One of the main challenges these [ECE] centers face, is finding and keeping qualified teachers. Colorado does not have a large enough pool of early childhood educators to meet demands.”

HB20-1053 would provide licenses to quality child care centers, even if all of their providers have not completed their credentials. Of course, the centers would still have to meet all of the state requirements for quality, safety and supervision, but it would allow early childhood educators to work while they continue their own education. This bill would also allow educators to gain credentials based on their prior work experience in the field, which would open up many qualified candidates to fill positions. Finally, HB20-1053 would streamline the licensing process and make requirements clear, consistent and efficient.

Susan said she believed that HB20-1053 is a step in the right direction when it comes to meeting the early education needs of Colorado children because it “offers practical support[s] to get interested students into the workforce.” Ultimately, the Committee agreed. The motion passed on a vote 8-4 and moved on to the Appropriations committee!

The children and families of Colorado deserve access to quality, affordable childcare in their neighborhoods. It is imperative to the future of our state that we have a strong workforce now and also that we prepare our children to join it someday. While HB20-1053 is an expensive investment, it is a critical one.

Even if you don’t live in Colorado, there are still plenty of ways that you can support early child education programs in your community and across the U.S.!

Learn how you can help more kids access quality child care and early education programs.  

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Lindsey Knowlden is an MSW Intern with SCAN and the Colorado Voter Engagement Volunteer Leader. She is currently working on getting her degree from the University of Denver. She has experience working with children and families in a variety of capacities, from residential treatment facilities to school-based special education.