Roaring Fork Valley coalition influential in state’s early childhood bill
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Emilie Piper, an office manager for a local law firm, said it took her two years to get her first son, now in first grade, into preschool after moving to the Roaring Fork Valley.
The long wait list “limited my ability to go back to work. When we moved back (to Glenwood Springs), I had to go back to work, and it certainly limited what I could do,” Piper said.
Piper now works three days a week to save on day care for her second son, but puts in 10-hour days to increase her income. Preschool can cost $50 to $65 per day, Piper said, and that’s after early-childhood programs take in grants and subsidies.
help on the way
Now, a new Colorado law could help the Roaring Fork Valley overcome the high demand and low availability of early-childhood education.
Special districts can be created for fire departments, water and sanitation, parks and recreation, health services or for metropolitan areas, but the Early Childhood Development Special District bill makes it possible for communities to organize, and potentially collect taxes, to support preschool and day care services.
During a signing ceremony Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis thanked the Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition, a group of 17 business, community, school district, education and nonprofit leaders between Parachute to Aspen.
Early-childhood education is “one of the biggest expenses for families, and when we can do it together, it frees parents up to go back to the workforce, and of course, gives kids a strong start,” Polis said.
The special districts bill is not part of Polis’ mission to bring free kindergarten, and eventually free early childhood programs, to the state.
With so much demand, it seems there is an opportunity for day cares to expand, but it isn’t that simple.
In Glenwood Springs, there is a disparity between the availability and demand for child care, said Megan Pluger, director of the nonprofit Our School in south Glenwood Springs.
Our School has a wait list of more than a year for each age group, and more than 60 people are waiting for a spot in the infant care programs.
“A big struggle is finding quality providers and caregivers,” Pluger said. Our School has considered expanding to meet demand, but the cost of property is too great at present, Pluger said.
But the need to care for children is critical, and Pluger is open to learning how a special district could help.
The Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition has worked for years to solve the problems with the high cost of preschool programs, and the bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Polis is a crucial step in that process.
local legislative support
Sponsored by state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, the bill is a step toward bringing more affordable child care to the regions.
“I hope we look back in about three years and think that this was a great day, and a good start,” Rankin said at the signing ceremony.
Rankin appeared to joke when he added, “In the Roaring Fork Valley, we’re going to do this right away, right?”
“It’s going to be a while,” Cindy Kahn, executive director of the Aspen-based social advocacy nonprofit the Manaus Fund, part of the coalition, said in an interview.
The coalition is working on the makeup of a special district in the Roaring Fork Valley.
When RMPC emerged out of the Aspen Community Foundation’s Cradle to Career business roundtable group several years ago, they were working on universal preschool.
But as the coalition was researching, polling the region and looking at preschool initiatives in Denver, “it became clear that a special district would serve us well in this work,” Kahn said.
The coalition inspired Rankin to sponsor the legislation, which he introduced at the beginning of the current legislative session.
“Where we’re going to take it still needs to be decided, but no matter what, this coalition will work on assuring there’s affordability and availability for children to attend preschools,” Joni Goodwin, executive director of the Early Childhood Network, said in an interview.
“What we really need throughout all of early-childhood education is to find a way to better fund early-childhood programs so that we can pay teachers a livable wage,” said Stacy Petty, coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Education Council.
Across the Roaring Fork School District, three schools achieved higher ratings from 2019 to 2022, two schools had lower ratings during that time period and most remained the same.