Colorado early childhood efforts could get a major boost from federal grant

A multimillion federal grant could pump $38 million into Colorado early childhood efforts over the next three years. Federal officials will announce grant awards by the end of December.

One thing the birth-to-5 grants won’t do is create large numbers of new preschool and child care slots. That’s because the pot of money — a total of $206 million for 23 states in the first year — is too small.

“You can build some good infrastructure with this money,” said Simon Workman, director of early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. “What you can’t do is significantly expand services to children because that costs a lot more money.”

To make child care available to a large proportion of working families, he said, “you’re talking hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars per state.”

The new money will come from the federal Preschool Development Birth through Five grant program, which was established under the 2015 federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Forty-six states, including Colorado, won federal planning grants last year to help them craft applications for the larger renewal grants available now.

Lindsey Dorneman, director of the Preschool Development Grant project at the Colorado Department of Human Services, said ensuring the grant money would create lasting impact came up often during the year-long planning process.

“We talked about investments in slots and in child care,” she said, “That’s just not sustainable.”

In addition, Dorneman said the federal government designed the grant to touch on a variety of programs that impact young children, not just child care and preschool.

“They went pretty broad, and we did too,” she said.

If Colorado wins a renewal grant, leaders plan to update several of the state’s early childhood technology systems, improve key pieces of the child care rating system Colorado Shines, provide scholarships to early childhood providers seeking a common industry credential, and offer microgrants to improve child care facilities. Other plans include creating an early childhood resource hub for families, translating state trainings for child care providers into Spanish, and piloting a telephone service that allows providers to consult with early childhood mental health professionals.

Dorneman said if Colorado is among the states to lose out on a renewal grant, leaders will have to decide if there are some early childhood projects they can still move forward using other funds. She said there’s also a possibility the state will get a portion of its $12.5-million-a-year request instead of the full amount.

Workman said even states that don’t win renewal grants will have benefitted from spending the last year creating early childhood strategic plans as part of the planning grant process. The lack of federal money may slow down the pace of improvements, but won’t necessarily derail progress completely, he said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story indicated that an $11 million state match required if Colorado wins the federal grant represents new money for early childhood initiatives. In fact, the $11 million is existing state money already dedicated to early childhood efforts.