Colorado Introduces Legislation to Create State Early Childhood Agency

We need flashing lights, crosswalk buttons, ADA accessibility, and whatever else will help our kids stay safe. We need more. What other options could be available?

Governor Jared Polis and legislative leaders recently unveiled a proposal to create a new, cabinet-level state agency focused on early childhood.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to develop their full potential and we know that development starts very early on. As we power the Colorado comeback, we’re going to need every single Colorado mind — and that includes our youngest ones,” said Governor Jared Polis. This new agency is a strong step to streamline access and elevate the importance of the early years to help ensure that every family can access preschool and high-quality early learning and care.”

Early childhood is a critical period in child development that dramatically shapes a child’s subsequent education and life experiences. The early years of life are when the foundation of brain architecture is being put into place and the quality of a child’s early experiences can either positively or negatively change their academic and life outcomes.

Unprecedented and hugely popular investments in early learning, including Proposition EE which was supported across Colorado by a 2-1 margin, and new federal funding targeted to child care, provide the state with a unique opportunity to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, better supporting our state’s families and significantly bolstering our economic recovery.

“As the father of two small children in early childhood and one on the way, I’m critically aware of the need to support children’s development in the early years,” said Speaker Garnett. “But for too many families, this is also the time when they have the least amount of support. Today we’re creating a forward-thinking framework to fund and organize our early childhood efforts. Colorado is putting kids and families first.”

“Last November voters overwhelmingly agreed to support universal access to high-quality preschool – demonstrating a real commitment to equitable child care in Colorado,” said Majority Leader Fenberg. “Elevating and streamlining our early childhood system is a top priority for our state, and we know that this is an investment that will not only set up our kids for success but pay dividends for years to come.”

Despite the long-term impact of the early years, this is the time when families have the least support and children face the greatest hurdles to opportunity. Our youngest children are most likely to live in poverty, most likely to experience homelessness, and least likely to have access to child care and preschool.

“We’ve heard from families and providers that navigating our fragmented early childhood systems is just too hard,” said Rep. Emily Sirota. “We are developing a solution to make this system more efficient and more workable for families, educators and early childhood professionals. I’m proud to say that’s exactly what we’re delivering today. It’s critical that we advocate for our youngest children and give them the tools they need to develop and thrive.

“Like our ABCs, choosing to invest in our children’s education should be fundamental,” said Senator Janet Buckner. “The voters passed universal access to voluntary preschool by overwhelming margins, and now is our time to take the necessary steps to ensure we make the most of this historic opportunity.”

Colorado’s statutorily-created Early Childhood Leadership Commission, with representation from K-12 education, counties, business, providers, parents, state agencies, and philanthropy, has unanimously recommended the creation of a new, cabinet-level state agency focused on early childhood.

This legislation would promote alignment and quality and improve access to high-quality early childhood experiences. In order to successfully implement Proposition EE, this bill would do three things, first, it’s to create the Colorado Department of Early Childhood with a mission to expand access to high-quality, voluntary, affordable early childhood opportunities, support parents in accessing programs & services, coordinate the availability of services, promote equitable delivery of resources, and unify the fragmented administration of early childhood services to reduce duplicative oversight and administrative burden on families, providers, and educators.

Secondly, aim to initiate a community-informed process to unify early childhood services in the new department via engagement of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, existing agencies, and affected organizations and individuals. The plan must align funding sources, reduce duplicative oversight and regulation to promote administrative efficiency, ensure alignment with K-12 education and other existing departments, and create a plan for the transition of services and programs as appropriate.

And thirdly, require a plan to implement voluntary universal preschool statewide in alignment with voter intent in Prop EE and ensure that the preschool program aligns existing and new funding, supports community-based and school-based preschool options, blends funds as appropriate, integrates with local systems including Early Childhood Councils, supports the needs of diverse learners, including those with special needs, and is evaluated for child and family outcomes.

Under this legislation, the Governor would submit the community-informed transition plan to the Joint Budget Committee in November as part of his 2022 budget request, to be considered for further legislative action by the General Assembly in the 2022 session.

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