Denver parents have been struggling with sky-high childcare costs and unreliable services, as early-childhood educators have been weighing whether to stay in the field because of low pay, long hours, poor benefits and the unpredictability the pandemic has wrought on educators. In rural parts of Colorado, the struggles run deeper.
State lawmakers say the childcare shortage is preventing many parents, mostly women, from returning to the workforce.
“There’s a shortage in childcare facilities that is causing families to sit and wait and sit and wait,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, earlier this year. “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.”
Under Gov. Jared Polis’s administration, the state funded full-day kindergarten and planned to fund 10 free hours a week of preschool for four-year-olds, which will start in fall 2023. Colorado has also launched multiple grant initiatives for centers with pandemic relief money and an Office of Early Childhood.
In an effort to ease the burden on parents and childcare centers statewide, the legislature passed several measures that Polis recently signed into office.
Those include a bill that reduced property taxes for childcare centers. The goal is to incentivize landlords to lease spaces to early-childhood educators
“Cutting taxes for child care centers just makes sense, and I am so glad my bill to do just that has been signed into law,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts. “Child care is one of the largest costs young families are facing, and finding child care can be extremely challenging or impossible, particularly in rural Colorado. That’s why I introduced this bill. With these savings, we expect child care centers across the state to be able to lower prices, hire more employees, and create more child care openings for families. Further, it will be a powerful financial incentive for new child care centers to open their doors.”
Another bill dedicated $50 million in pandemic relief aid to fund centers in childcare deserts, where families face a particularly strong lack of options.
The money will also fund educator recruitment and training for friend, family and neighborhood childcare providers, who often work without adequate resources yet provide much of the state’s childcare.
“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,” said Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, earlier this year. “This bill gets us doing just that.”
Bill co-sponsor Rep Alex Valdez added, “By boosting funding for child care providers, we’ll create more child care options for parents, save families money and help people get back to work. Not only will this help parents, but it will help Colorado’s employers as well as they deal with workforce shortages and rising costs. This law is great news for families with young children, child care providers and small businesses across Colorado.”
The state also funded mental healthcare programming for children and an income tax credit for early-childhood educators to help recruit and retain talented teachers.
Despite this new funding, many families and childcare providers alike look to other countries with more robust support for early-childhood education, where the costs are subsidized by the government. They wonder why Colorado can’t have similar levels of public support.
Elsa Holguín — head of the Denver Preschool Program, which offers subsidized preschool to all Denver four-year-olds and income-qualifying three-year-olds — has been heartened by the Biden administration’s support for universal preschool. It has yet to gain significant political traction.
Even so, she sees signs that the public might be willing to invest in its youngest residents.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people understood how important it is to fund and support childcare, because families cannot go to work unless they have access to child care,” she said. “It’s an economic investment that we have to make in order to help the family.”