COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado's universal preschool program launches next year, but it could hit a snag with the shortage of early childhood educators.
"We were projecting a shortage of about 2700 teachers when we enacted universal preschool pre-pandemic. Now that the pandemic has affected those teacher shortage numbers more, it's unclear how big of a shortage we're going to be looking at but it's going to be significant," said Liz Denson, Vice President of Community Engagement for Early Connections Learning Centers.
She says it's a multi-faceted issue that goes beyond just low pay.
"There are issues related to the workload teachers experience, issues related to the education that's required to maintain quality and work environment," said Denson.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to attract and retain early childhood educators with HB22-1010, which would give them an income tax credit of $500, $750, or $1,000 a year, depending on their credentials.
"We definitely think it's going to be a retention tool. It is a small credit between $500 and $1000 depending on credentials, but it will be a benefit to teachers," said Denson.
"Oftentimes the pay is not at a place where many folks feel like they can stay in the field," said Rep. Emily Sirota (D) Denver.
The mass exodus puts a strain on the remaining childcare centers and employees.
"A third of our centers have not been able to open all of their classrooms and some have had to close," said Sirota.
While the income tax credit could be a step forward, many believe more needs to be done.
"It has to come from the federal level. There is a severe lack of investment with federal dollars in early education," said Denson.