How Colorado’s new universal preschool law will impact Summit County
Local leaders say the new law will streamline early childcare in the state too
It’s been nearly a month since Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 22-1295 into law, which simultaneously created a universal preschool program and implemented the new Office of Early Childhood.
According to the bill’s summary, the universal preschool program will “provide 10 hours per week of preschool services for children in the year preceding eligibility for kindergarten.” It will also provide preschool for 3-year-olds who are in low-income families or meet qualifying factors and provide some preschool for children younger “in limited circumstances,” among other things.
The new program is set to begin in the fall of 2023, and the new Office of Early Childhood will work with “local coordinating organizations“ to give parents a mix of public and private preschool provider options.
Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, a nonprofit hub for connecting parents and children to child care, said these local coordinating organizations will give communities like Summit County more of a say in how this new universal program will be carried out into the future.
“That’s really so that in the long run, there is some local decision-making about what’s working best for children and families in the community,” Burns said of these organizations. “That was a very intentional part of the legislation.”
In general, Burns said this new law expands on the current program the county already has in place. Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said this ballot measure essentially made it possible for all children to attend preschool the year before they started kindergarten on a sliding scale. This meant that students could either attend for free or at a reduced rate.
Lawrence said that this new support from the state will allow Summit County to leverage local dollars to provide additional tuition assistance to younger age groups. Burns said currently, about 75% of the county’s 4-year-old population attends preschool.
“It’s a community goal of Summit County,” Lawrence said of increasing access to early childcare. “Our voters have told us over and over again how important childcare is — early childhood initiatives — and this is the state saying the same thing. These are important, important years in kids’ lives and the state is really saying, ‘We’re taking this seriously, and we’re going to have it all under one umbrella.’”
Neither Burns nor Lawrence said they were concerned about the logistics of offering this new state program in the county. Both noted that the county has a number of open positions for preschool teachers and that there’s a lack of capacity to fill the current need of families. Even so, Burns pointed to a few projects coming online, including a new child care facility in Silverthorne set to break ground this summer.
Lawrence reemphasized that community leaders are working to mitigate the need as quickly as possible, especially as it relates to teacher compensation.
“One of the biggest things is that we’re going to have to make sure that preschool teachers are paid enough, a livable wage to be here in this community,” Lawrence said. “We can’t do that on our own, and we’re going to need help from the state.”
Besides universal preschool, the new law also establishes the new Office of Early Childhood. For the past year, Lawrence sat on the transition advisory group to help set up this new department, and now that the legislation has passed, she’s applied to sit on the committee to further get the department on its feet. She said she’d like to join this new committee so that rural mountain communities like Summit County have a seat at the table.
“When I think of this new department, the word, to me, that comes to mind is ‘simplicity’ or ‘unification,’” Lawrence said. “What this is going to do is currently, early childhood was broken up. Some was in (the Colorado Department of Education), some was in (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), some was in Health and Human Services. This is really streamlining all of that.”
For more information about the new law, visit Leg.Colorado.gov/bills/hb22-1295.
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