Early Childhood

New report recommends ways to ease financial burden of child care

There isn’t much debate that quality child care is expensive in Colorado, stretching parents’ pocketbooks and providers’ lean budgets. A new report released today recommends a raft of policy changes that could help ease the financial burden for families with young children and the child care providers who serve them.

The report calls for expanded federal, state and local investments in programs such as the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, which is primarily funded by a federal block grant, the state’s Colorado Preschool Program, as well as assistance programs funded by various municipalities.

In addition to recommending changes to things like income thresholds, co-pays and reimbursement rates in existing assistance programs, the report proposes creating incentives for private businesses to create family-friendly childcare policies. It also recommends changes that would eliminate some of the red tape families encounter when applying for child care assistance and providers face when they have to braid together multiple funding sources to pay for a child’s slot.

The report is the third in a series produced over the past seven months by Qualistar Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. The first report looked at the varying cost of child care across the state and the second looked at the key factors that impact the cost of care. All three reports are available here.

Starting early

Colorado’s state preschool program doesn’t serve English learners well, report finds

PHOTO: energyy | Getty Images
Preschool children doing activities.

Colorado’s public preschool program fails to meet most targets for effectively serving young English learners, according to a new state-by-state report released today.

Besides having just two of nine recommended policies in place for serving such youngsters, Colorado also doesn’t know how many of the 22,000 preschoolers in its state-funded slots speak a home language other than English.

These findings come from the “State of Preschool 2017” report put out by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, at Rutgers University. This year, in addition to the organization’s usual look at state preschool spending, enrollment, and quality, the report includes a section on how states are serving English learners. Nationwide, 23 percent of preschool-aged children fall into this category.

Colorado fared about the same as last year — average or below average — on the criteria examined annually in the preschool report. It ranked 25th among 43 states and Washington, D.C., for 4-year-old access to preschool, 10th for 3-year-old access and 39th for state preschool funding. It also met only five of 10 benchmarks measuring preschool quality, worse than most other states.

Colorado’s state-funded preschool program, called the the Colorado Preschool Program, provides half-day preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds who come from low-income families, have parents who didn’t finish high school, or other risk factors. Seven states, mostly in the West, have no public preschool programs.

Colorado isn’t alone in having few provisions focused on preschoolers learning English. About two-dozen other states also met two or fewer of the report’s nine benchmarks, which include policies such as allocating extra funding to English learners, and screening and assessing them in their home language.

Only three states met eight or nine of the benchmarks: Texas, Maine, and Kansas.

Colorado education department officials said the NIEER report could help spur changes in the Colorado Preschool Program.

“This actually might be an opportunity for us to look at these more specific indicators of high quality practices [for] dual-language learners, to help drive improvements in our program,” said Heidi McCaslin, preschool director at the Colorado Department of Education.

To alter the program or its data collection requirements, she said the state legislature would have to change the law or the State Board of Education would have to change rules.

Authors of the new report say supporting English learners is important, especially early in life.

“For all children, the preschool years are a critical time for language development.” said Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the institute. “We know that dual-language learners are a group that makes the largest gains from attending high-quality preschool. At the same time they’re at elevated risk for school failure.”

Colorado earned credit for two of the study’s English-learner benchmarks: for allowing bilingual instruction and having policies to support families of young English learners. Those policies include providing enrollment information and communicating with the child’s family in the home language.

McCaslin mentioned one Colorado preschool initiative focused on dual-language learners. It’s a training to help preschool teachers distinguish between children who have speech problems because of a disability and those who have speech delays because they are learning English and another language at the same time.

Early Childhood

Why Indiana ranks second to last in the nation for access to its pre-K program

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
A teacher sits with two preschoolers while they play in a preschool classroom at the Day Early Learning Lilly Center.

Indiana ranks second to last in the nation for access to state-funded prekindergarten among states that offer it, according to a new national “State of Preschool” report released Wednesday.

In 2017, the state served just 2 percent of 4-year-olds — or 1,792 students — through its prekindergarten voucher program for low-income families, called On My Way Pre-K. That put Indiana behind all but one of the 44 states that offer state-funded preschool, according to the annual report conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

State leaders noted the state’s recent expansion of pre-K wasn’t reflected in the report. Last year, the Indiana legislature agreed to increase funding for On My Way Pre-K to $22 million, to extend the program into 20 counties and double the enrollment of poor 4-year-olds in the upcoming 2018-19 school year.

“We’re disappointed that the organization missed an opportunity to recognize Indiana for our commitment to doubling the state’s investment in pre-K,” said Marni Lemons, spokeswoman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

But the expansion is still unlikely to catch Indiana up with the rest of the nation. On average, the report said, preschool programs across the country serve about one-third of states’ 4-year-olds.

“Indiana shows promise with increased funding and 15 additional pilot counties in 2017-18, but it also has far to go,” NIEER Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett said in a written statement. “Indiana should move beyond a pilot program to enable more children to access high-quality early learning experiences.”

Still, the $10 million spent on pre-K prior to the expansion put Indiana in the top 15 for per-student state funding.

On My Way Pre-K was also recognized in the report for requiring providers to prepare students for kindergarten through a planned curriculum, and for analyzing the quality of classrooms and student growth each year and over a five-year study.

But Indiana was rated low in the report for meeting other quality standards — a sharp contrast to the state’s touting of deliberately growing its pre-K program with a focus on access to high-quality providers.

And the report noted that Indiana doesn’t vet pre-K curriculum or require pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree.

Indiana was rated similarly low in this report last year, which was the first time On My Way Pre-K was fully assessed in the report. The state approved the limited pre-K pilot program in 2014, specifically targeting 4-year-olds from low-income families and allowing families to choose from eligible pre-K providers. Initial results of studies by the state, though, show participants are making significant gains.

Across the country, the report found that states are investing less per student, even as they’re serving more children in preschool programs. It highlighted concerns over the quality of programs and whether states do enough for young children who are English-language learners.