$34 million grant buoys Colorado’s early childhood efforts

Colorado won a $34 million federal grant intended to give more young children access to quality early childhood services.

The grant will pay for a long list of projects, including updates to the state’s early childhood technology systems, improvements to the child care rating system Colorado Shines, scholarships for childcare providers seeking a common industry credential, and microgrants to improve child care facilities.

State officials received word in December they’d get 90% of the $38 million they requested — or about $11 million a year for three years. The new money comes via the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five funding competition, which was established under the 2015 federal education law the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Colorado also plans to use the grant money to create an early childhood resource hub for families, translate state trainings for child care providers into Spanish, and pilot a telephone service that allows providers to consult with early childhood mental health professionals.

Last year, Colorado was among 44 states and Washington, D.C., to win one-year planning grants, enabling their applications for the larger three-year awards announced last month. Colorado was among 20 states, and the only one in the Mountain West, to win a grant in the most recent cycle.

Jennifer Stedron, executive director of the nonprofit Early Milestones Colorado, one of the state’s partners in seeking the grant, said she’s excited the state will continue with the early childhood plan state leaders first released in 2008 and updated in 2015.

“We’ve had this vision for early childhood for a good decade and this is really the next step,” she said. “We have kept at this idea of systems-building.”

For the average family, she said, successful systems-building means making it easier for parents to find child care, health and education resources, and support for young children with developmental delays or other special needs.

”Why are they the ones having to make all these calls and fill out a million duplicate forms and tell the same story to 10 different adults?” she said of families trying to access services for their children. “That sort of coordination should happen behind the scenes.”

The infusion of new federal money will help make that a reality, she said.