Colorado putting $275M toward affordable child care, pre-K programs

Colorado is planning to help parents with elusive and expensive child care by putting $275 million in federal funding toward reducing tuition, increasing pay for workers and supporting community programs.

The investment is expected to save families more than $100 million in child care costs overall — or an average of about $450 per child in tuition over nine months and help child care centers remain open, according to Monday’s news release from Gov. Jared Polis’ office and the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The money would go toward licensed child care providers (including family care homes), Colorado Child Care Assistance Program providers and any preschool programs that are licensed through the state Office of Early Childhood, Department of Human Services spokesperson Madlynn Ruble.

“As families work to build back stronger from this pandemic, it’s critical that quality child care is accessible and affordable to all Colorado families,” Polis said in the release. “This investment will save families money and help get parents back to work while giving our children opportunities to learn, grow and succeed.”

Colorado, which has 4,700 child care programs, has some of the most expensive child care in the U.S. Child care for infants in Colorado costs about 21% of a median family’s income, according to Economic Policy Institute. The U.S. Department of Human Services determined that child care is only considered affordable if it costs up to 7% of a family’s income, so only about 6.2% of Colorado families can afford infant care.

In 2019, 64% of families with children under 6 had “all available parents” working in Colorado’s labor force, according to the Kids Count Data Center, and even before the pandemic, more than half of Colorado parents reported having to miss work because of the cost or availability of child care, according to the state.

Colorado has about 24,000 early childhood educators. Although employee costs make up about 80% of early childhood program budgets, the workers are among the lowest-paid education workers in the state, with a third of them relying on public assistance, according to Polis’ office. The Washington Post reported that there’s a dearth of child care workers across the country because people are quitting to take higher-paying jobs.

Some of the American Rescue Plan money in Colorado will go to adding more employees and retaining workers, as well as grants to help cover extra costs during the pandemic. About $8 million of the amount will be put toward for childhood programs, including those aimed at preventing and reducing child abuse and supporting families through mental health programs.

Colorado Department of Human Services Executive Director Michelle Barnes called the investment a way to help the state “stabilize and expand child care long into the future, meaning families can access the care they need.”

The state will provide more details about where the money will go at a virtual town hall, available in English and Spanish, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

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