COLORADO SPRINGS — Early childhood education and child care may be more attainable for working parents after Governor Jared Polis signed a groundbreaking bill into law.
SB21-236 creates four new grant programs to increase capacity for early childhood care and education, improve recruitment and retention rates for early childhood educators, and improve salaries for educators. Most importantly, it creates an employer-based child care facility grant program to construct or remodel an area to provide licensed child care services to its employees.
Specifically, the bill creates the following programs:
- The employer-based child care facility grant program
- The early care and education recruitment and retention grant and scholarship program
- The child care teacher salary grant program
- The community innovation and resilience for care and learning equity (CIRCLE) grant program
"A groundbreaking initiative that we are seeing in our state that is so exciting in it's supporting child care organizations small, large, independent, and corporate. With the ability to expand their services while also providing benefits to children and families as they're trying to get back into the workforce," said Liz Denson, Vice President of Community Engagement, Early Connections Learning Centers.
As one of the oldest early childhood education providers in the city, she says the new law is something that hasn't been seen in the state or country yet.
"We're talking about providing expansion grants for employer-based child care. There's also an opportunity for recruitment and retention grants, increasing individuals coming into our industry. There's the salary grant program which allows the employer to raise the amount that they are paying to their teachers," said Denson. "There is so much that this grant does that provides early childhood and education organizations to not only make it through the pandemic but be sustainable on the other end of it."
Polis says the main goal of the new law is to provide working parents, especially mothers with affordable and attainable child care services.
"It's up to employers if they want to have on-site, but what we are trying to do is reduce the cost, burdens, and regulations on-site. We can provide some financial incentives around on-site, on-site is great because on break you can go visit your kid. I mean what is better than that," said Polis.
According to Polis, on-site child care will be utilized by middle to large companies in the state.
"It also means that a number of employers can get together and work together. So if you have a thriving downtown area with a few dozen retail and restaurants they can get together to provide support for an on-site, in the neighborhood child care facility," said Polis.
“Early childhood caretakers and educators have a tremendous impact on our youth’s growth and development and are some of the most valuable and influential figures in children’s lives -- helping to not only prepare them for K-12, but also shape their critical thinking abilities, social skills, and general well-being. The disruptions caused by the pandemic, however, have severely inhibited educators’ ability to teach and children’s ability to learn. The critical funding in this bill will help reignite early childhood care and education throughout Colorado, ensuring that our educators can continue to be the positive role models our kids need to grow and develop while at the same time contributing to our overall economic recovery.”
"What we've seen and what we've learned during the pandemic is that parents can't work without childcare. You can't go to work if you don't have anyone to watch your children, and our state government has realized that it's a factor in our state," said Denson.
Which makes the investment into early childhood education and child care that more important.
"From the Early Connections perspective, we're really excited for these grant expansions, especially for infants and toddlers. There is such a dramatic need for infant and toddler care in our community, state, and nation. This bill identifies that supporting that expansion options for parents is very important," said Denson.
The state has begun taking applications to start awarding grants by Sept.1. For those interested in applying, click here.