Lawmakers propose a fix for Colorado’s childcare shortage

The bill would fund childcare centers, workforce development and training for family, friend and neighbor providers.

Chelsea Ransom and Dave Hawkins watch as their kids, Maya and Bryce, play before dinner at their home in Denver's Speer neighborhood. April 7, 2022.

Chelsea Ransom and Dave Hawkins watch as their kids, Maya and Bryce, play before dinner at their home in Denver's Speer neighborhood. April 7, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

On Wednesday, bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill at the Statehouse to address Colorado’s childcare crisis. If passed, SB22-213 would pour in $50 million economic recovery and relief funds and another possible $50 million in proposed federal childcare stabilization grants into the state’s childcare system.

“There’s a shortage in childcare facilities that is causing families to sit and wait and sit and wait,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields. “And there’s no time to sit and wait. Because you need to perhaps get back to work, and your child needs to learn their ABCs, their numbers, their colors.”

Democratic Rep. Kerry Tipper, who struggled to find a center to accept her child until the day before the legislative session began, described how childcare centers operate on thin profit margins yet still fail to provide regular, reliable services.

She has experienced the stress the system causes families and understands why parents are staying at home.

“It is no wonder we lost so many women from the workforce,” she said.

Fields, a Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill with Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, recalled that some of the most stressful moments of her life were when she was trying to find someone to care for her child. That was over a decade ago, long before the pandemic devastated the early-childhood-education system.

In recent weeks, Denverite has spoken to metro-area parents who say they have been stuck on waitlists for upwards of two years, lost work waiting for a spot in a childcare center to open, and have considered leaving Colorado altogether. After COVID-19 came to Denver, some childcare centers shuttered permanently, others cut back hours and reduced enrollment. Unreliable and unavailable care have forced parents to stall their careers and even drove one mother into bankruptcy.

“We’ve seen such severe challenges that some facilities have shut their doors, because when we all were expected to shelter home, daycare facilities relied on the tuition and fees that they got,” Fields said. “And they weren’t getting the income to sustain their facility, so they had to close the doors.”

Here’s how the money would be spent.

If the bill passes, the money would pay for new childcare center grants, employer-based childcare facilities, professional recruitment and retention efforts, mental health and early intervention providers, workforce development, and “family-strengthening” grants, among other programs.

The majority of Colorado families rely on informal friends, family and neighborhood childcare providers who often watch children from birth to kindergarten and too often go without training or funding, according to Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition.

The bill would allocate $4.5 million to support those friends, family and neighborhood providers with training and more. Such funding is something similar legislative efforts often lack, Garcia said, and that support makes this historic because it bolsters multiple types of childcare, not just centers.

“If we don’t support the high quality of childcare in all forms of care, then we’re not actually doing what we claim to do,” she said. “This bill gets us doing just that.”

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