COLORADO SPRINGS — During a speech Wednesday before Congress, President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan that invests in families, children, and the education system.
The proposal will direct $200 billion toward tuition-free community college for two years, teacher scholarships, and universal pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds through a national partnership with states.
Last year, Colorado voters approved Proposition EE which hiked taxes on tobacco products and levied the first-ever tax on vaping. Lawmakers created the measure to accomplish three things: backfill some of the budget cuts to K-12 education, provide additional tobacco cessation and prevention services, and fund universal free preschool.
That funding becomes available for preschool in the fall of 2023.
With even more funds geared toward early childhood education, local childcare providers and advocates are eager for more changes to the current system.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for us, but we need to be strategic, we need to be thoughtful, and we need to be collaborative. We have to go into this looking at an entire community needs, an entire state's needs, not just an entire individual's needs, but how do we build capacity in our community that has equal access to all children," said Diane Price, President, and CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers.
In her 40 years, Price says this is the most attention and funds she's seen allocated to early childhood education.
"I think it gives us the opportunity to think about how we can improve the system, balance the cost of the system and understand the role we play as a nation and society in the well-being of our very youngest children," said Price.
She's a part of the Leadership Committee for Proposition EE. While she doesn't know how Biden's proposal will impact the tax measure, she says the state is ready to handle any new funds that come into the state for early childhood education.
"It's something that we do well in Colorado, and they are good at bringing Colorado stakeholders to understand how the federal dollars flow and how the federal dollars get disbursed," said Price.
"We won't know how this will impact Colorado's universal preschool program until our state partners and experts can really dig into how this funding will be delivered and how many hours it will offer," said Nicole Riehl, President, CEO of EPIC Colorado.
Biden's proposal requires a state match which the state will be poised to address with the passage of Proposition EE. Riehl says both plans will go hand-in-hand in providing more resources to families across the state.
"If we have a federal investment that we can also tie to a state investment then we might be able to provide a huge amount of preschool and childhood education to children and families," said Riehl.
Riehl and Price say it'll be critical for families and other stakeholders to be involved with the proposal.
"The needs vary depending on local communities. So getting input from parents, providers, and community, and business people on how it works is very critical," said Price.
She's hoping that the federal government will work closely with the state to identify where the funds are needed most.
As part of Early Milestones' "Future of Preschool in Colorado" publication series, stakeholders identified core values that they want to see embedded in the design of a universal preschool program.
- Provide preschool for all with additional programming for those who need it: All preschoolers in their year before kindergarten are invited and welcomed into Colorado’s universal preschool program. Children who need extra support can get it.
- Promote equity: Children and families who have historically experienced barriers can easily access the preschool programs that meet their needs and cultures. All early educators have equitable access to training, jobs, and fair pay.
- Ensure age-appropriate programming that addresses the whole child: Children are welcomed into a joyful environment that supports all aspects of their growth and development.
- Make things easy for families and preschools: Governing and coordinating agencies take on funding and administrative details so families and preschools can focus on the children.
- Connect preschool with child care options that families want and need: Families have access to programs that fit their lives, support their work schedules, and align with their culture.
- Support and raise up early childhood educators: All early childhood educators have access to convenient and affordable training, fair pay and benefits, and respect for the work that they do.
- Encourage promising and evidence-based practices: Governing and coordinating agencies promote a learning culture that values innovation.
- Collect and use data to get results for children: Meaningful data about children’s outcomes are used to make timely programming and policy decisions so that all children are ready for kindergarten.
- Create a better system of early care and education for children of all ages: Families and service providers experience smooth connections and transitions across a strong systemof services.