Help is coming for Colorado’s beleaguered childcare industry. Is it enough?

In the mix of bills recently signed by Governor Jared Polis: tax credits, tax cuts and grants.

Evidence of arts and crafts in Shaniq Wells' before and after school childcare classroom at Trevista at Horace Mann in Sunnyside.  April 8, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

June 06, 2022, 12:04 pm

Parents in Denver are struggling with skyrocketing child care costs and unreliable services as early childhood educators weigh whether to stay in the field due to low pay, long hours, poor benefits and the unpredictability the pandemic has wrought on educators. In rural parts of Colorado, the battle runs deeper.

State lawmakers say the shortage of child care is preventing many parents, mostly women, from returning to the workforce.

“There is a shortage of childcare facilities which causes families to sit and wait and sit and wait,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields said earlier this year. “And there is no time to sit and wait. Because you might have to go back to work, and your child has to learn their ABCs, their numbers, their colors.”

Under Gov. Jared Polis’ administration, the state funded full-day kindergarten and plans to fund 10 free hours a week of preschool for four-year-olds, starting in the fall of 2023. Colorado also launched several grant initiatives for centers with pandemic relief money and an office of early childhood.

In an effort to ease the burden on parents and child care centers nationwide, the legislature passed several measures that Polis recently signed into office.

These include a bill that reduced property taxes for child care centers. The aim is to encourage landlords to rent spaces to early childhood educators

“Cutting taxes for child care centers just makes sense, and I’m so glad my bill to do so was signed into law,” Rep. Dylan Roberts said. “Child care is one of the biggest costs young families face, and finding child care can be extremely challenging or impossible, especially in rural Colorado. That’s why I introduced this bill. With these savings, we expect that child care centers across the state will be able to lower prices, hire more employees and create more child care openings for families.In addition, it will provide 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 child care deserts, where families have a particularly stark lack of options.

The money will also fund the recruitment and training of educators for friends, family and neighborhood child care providers, who often operate without adequate resources, yet provide much of the state’s child care.

“If we don’t support the high quality of child care in all forms of care, then we’re not really doing what we claim to do,” Lorena Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, said earlier this year. “This bill allows us to do just that.”

Bill co-sponsor Alex Valdez added: “By boosting funding for childcare providers, we will create more childcare options for parents, save families money and help people return to work. Not only will this help parents, but it will also help Colorado’s employers as they deal with workforce shortages and rising costs. This law is good news for families with young children, child care providers and small businesses across Colorado.

The state also funded mental health care 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 are looking to other countries with more robust support for early childhood education, where the cost is 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 provides subsidized preschool to all Denver four-year-olds and income-eligible three-year-olds — was encouraged by the Biden administration’s support for universal preschool. It has not yet gained significant political traction.

Still, she sees signs that the public may be willing to invest in its youngest residents.

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people have understood how important it is to fund and support childcare, because families can’t go to work unless they have access to childcare,” she said. “It is an economic investment that we have to make to help the family.”

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