Colorado is establishing a universal preschool program in fall 2023, thanks to Proposition EE passing in November 2020. Clayton's policy and advocacy team led a co-learning process in partnership with the Colorado Children's Campaign and Early Milestones Colorado to gather community input on the important components of a universal preschool program. Groups reached out to parents, educators, providers, school districts, and community members to hear what they were most excited about, their biggest fears, and everything in between. Throughout the process, we strived to elevate the voices of Colorado's children, families, and caregivers, ensuring their needs are met and they receive the best services.
To create more streamlined access to numerous programs provided to young children and their families across the state, House Bill 21-1304 was introduced and passed during the 2021 legislative session. This bill created the new Department of Early Childhood(DEC), a cabinet-level state agency, highlighting the important work happening in early childhood development.
As defined in HB 21-1304, the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC) is the entity charged with creating a plan for the creation of the new DEC. The transition planning includes a multi-prong approach to collect feedback:
- A Transition Advisory Group (TAG) with appointed members will provide recommendations for the department's transition. This group, consisting of parents, educators, early childhood providers, advocacy organizations, and local and state agencies from all over Colorado, have been meeting since the summer and reflect the diversity of voices in the state
- Public subcommittees discussing particular issues to seek recommendations to present to the TAG
- Listening sessions to hear and learn from parents, early childhood educators, and providers
- Monthly town halls to share out transparent and timely information to the field
The TAG is currently debating draft recommendations to inform the creation of the new department and the universal preschool program. The draft recommendations were recently released, and the ECLC will be collecting feedback through a state listening tour throughout the remainder of the month. The TAG will present recommendations to the Transition Working Group (TWG), composed of leaders from the Governor's Office, several state agencies, and the ECLC, which will then report to the full ECLC. The ECLC will vote on final plans to be sent to the Governor and the Legislature. Final recommendations for the new department will be complete November 1 and January 1, 2022, for the universal preschool.
Clayton Community Ambassador, George Davis, who spoke when Governor Polis introduced HB 21-1304, serves on the TAG as a representative for parents in the community. "This has been a way for everyone to come together, regardless of race, economic standing, or religion, and all be on the same page to do the best for our kids," said Davis. Creating the new department sets our kids up for a better future and therefore sets everyone up for a better future. It provides a better service for families and makes it easier for parents to get involved in programs."
The Early Childhood Department will open in July 2022, with the universal preschool program launching in 2023. Clayton's policy team is currently working on legislation for the program's needs, including universal enrollment and application processes, with the hope of helping families navigate the system better. Clayton also hopes that early childhood providers will be able to interact with the state department through a more simplified process, allowing them to, in turn, provide more programs for Colorado's families. Creating efficient processes will also provide opportunities for additional funds that schools could use to support compensation and hire more educators.
Clayton Early Learning has long been hard at work supporting policies that promote healthy early child development for all young children across the state. "We are so excited that the importance of early childhood is finally being elevated through this creation of a new cabinet-level state department," said Christina Walker, Clayton's Director of Policy and Advocacy."Clayton believes that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change our government systems for the better by making them much more responsive to the needs of children, families, and caregivers. We are proud to continue to advocate for positive change by lifting up the voices of so many parents and educators who so often have been left out of these vital policy discussions."