Colorado completed three economic impact reports: county reports were completed in the summer of 2003 by Boulder and Larimer Counties and the state report was completed in the winter of 2004. These reports were spearheaded by each county's Early Childhood Council. The Boulder and Larimer County Early Childhood Councils were among the initial councils created as part of the Consolidated Child Care Pilot that began in 1997. Larimer County advocates believed that showing and describing ECE as a business that contributed to the local economy would be an effective tool to engage new partners with the resources to influence ECE system change at the state and local level.
The Colorado state economic impact report, commissioned by the Colorado Children's Campaign, provided a strong message for why the state, as a whole, should invest in ECE. It highlighted the far-reaching impact of the ECE industry and offered recommendations to institutionalize ECE at the state level. The economic impact report served as a legislative tool by offering an ‘evaluation' of the returns on the public resources invested in ECE. The concept of return on investment is particularly important in Colorado. The state's very conservative tax policy requires that tax increases be approved by a vote of the people. The law also mandates that the state budget not grow more than 6% from the previous year. This creates significant spending and revenue limitations especially during times of economic contraction. In 2005, Colorado voters passed a Referendum that allowed the state a five-year “break” from the revenue limits established by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). Currently the Joint Budget Committee is working on the fourth of five budgets to operate under this referendum.
Using Economic Messages
Local leadership, through the Early Childhood Councils and their network of partners, has driven ECE investments across the state. Part of the requirements for the initial pilot councils was the creation of community coalitions that work with council staff to assess ECE needs and develop and implement local solutions that focus on building a coordinated quality ECE system. Boulder and Larimer Counties were among these early councils and undertook the Early Care and Education Shared Vision Initiative as a joint effort to create a common vision of early learning. As part of that work, Council representatives realized that understanding the economics of ECE was critical to achieving improvements, but that the information was not well known by the public or policy makers.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
As a first step toward achieving results, the Early Care and Education Council of Boulder County designed the economic impact study and determined the types of data to collect. This created an opportunity to bring people together across the county. In 2004, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County hosted a community kick-off event to release the report. Since then, the Council has used these findings as the foundation for the county's ECE efforts and to integrate ECE in community wide initiatives. Along with the economic data, the social equity message is now part of the social fabric with people understanding that investments in ECE can come too late. Currently, both the City Council and the County Commissioners include ECE as a core value in their sustainability plans and policy platforms. County leaders are also engaged in the work of the Council and member of the systems building committee and Council leadership team.
In Larimer County, the economic impact study was the impetus the Early Childhood Council needed to move toward a more coordinated work effort for children and families. After the release of the report, Larimer County worked with a marketing firm to boil down the message, create a more professional look to the materials, and form a consistent message to share with businesses that emphasized community concerns. For instance, high tech companies often have trouble finding specialized skills locally. This makes the business community more aware of the importance of creating a highly educated workforce. The message that early learning contributes to a skilled future workforce helped businesses make the connection. Larimer's Council is also working with economic development professionals such as the North Colorado Economic Development Corporation and the Chamber's legislative committees to talk about using ECE as a recruiting tool. The economic impact message has increased business participation on the Council and new efforts are underway to better inform them about the Colorado Child Care Tax Credit that provides an incentive for making investments in ECE.
Boulder County's economic impact study opened the door for their ongoing work in ECE systems building. The economic impact report was the first set of data that helped define the child care sector. A second report was commissioned to look more specifically at a comprehensive system; what it would look like and what it would cost to cover all children birth to five. This second report helped complete the picture of what the community is trying to achieve and, with this blueprint, created greater community and business buy-in. In 2005, these reports served as the basis for launching a comprehensive system pilot with funding through an Early Learning Opportunities Grant.
Larimer County's Early Childhood Council is working to connect to the United Way's Pathways Past Poverty campaign that includes ECE goals. The campaign targets businesses and local government. This partnership increases awareness of what services are needed to help families and communities.
The Early Childhood Council of Boulder is working with the Boulder County Chamber of Commerce leadership class to survey community employers on ECE issues including human resource policies and issues of absenteeism connected to ECE. The results of the survey will provide a great opportunity to raise these issues with young professionals who often have ECE needs.
Since 1985, the Denver's Mayor's Office for Education and Children includes a Child Care Initiative. In 2004 the Mayor launched "Invest in Success" to improve quality and access to ECE for Denver's children. Other ECE efforts include: The Mayor's Leadership Team on Early Childhood Education that works with business and civic leaders to advance the city's work in quality early childhood education; and the Denver Public Schools/City and County of Denver - Ready to Succeed Early Childhood Education Council which is charged with developing and overseeing a five-year plan on early education. Using the economic impact data, the Mayor's Leadership Team proposed a Denver Preschool program that passed with voter approval in 2006. Funded through sales tax revenue, the Denver Preschool Program provides parents tuition credit to use at the preschool of their choice. The program is open and voluntary for all Denver four-year-olds and includes all licensed preschool providers participating in the quality improvement system.
State and Legislative Actions
In 2002 the School Readiness Initiative was passed by the Colorado Legislature. The Colorado Child Care Commission adopted Educare Colorado's Quality Rating as the accepted rating system to fulfill the school-readiness rating system. In 2004, Educare Colorado and the Colorado Office of Resource and Referral Agencies merged their organizations and became Qualistar Early Learning and oversee participation in the Qualistar Rating System for ECE programs.
In 2004, the State of Colorado Child Care Contribution Tax Credit program was created. The tax credit allows for a 50% credit toward State of Colorado income tax liability up to $100,000 annually. This tax credit is available for individuals and businesses. Any unused portion of the tax credit may be carried forward for up to five years.
Upon taking office in 2007 and with the Governor's support, the Lt. Governor assumed leadership of the state's ECE efforts. Building on the strong foundation created by local councils, efforts are underway to pull together local networks, statewide ECE advocates and a new state ECE framework into a comprehensive set of services. As a former president of the Colorado's Children's Campaign, the Lt. Governor is able to work as a liaison between policy makers and advocates for children to strategically move the state forward in evaluating and adopting ECE investments.
In 2007, House Bill 07-1062 expanded to 31 the Early Childhood Councils, which serve 56 of the state's 64 counties. These are community coalitions that work to build comprehensive ECE systems that provide services for children and families. This legislation is an expansion of the Consolidated Child Care Pilots that existed from 1997 – 2006 and had 17 councils. Each council works in eight goal areas. These goals align with the state Early Childhood Council that is staffed and supported by Smart Start Colorado, the state early childhood systems building initiative.
In April 2007, by executive order, the Governor established the P-20 Education Coordinating Council to ensure a seamless education system from birth through grade 20 for all Colorado's children. The panel is addressing the long-term goals of cutting high school drop-out rates and the achievement gap by 50% within 10 years. The three co-chairs of the Council are Lt. Governor Barbara O'Brien, businessman Bruce Benson, and Colorado State University at Pueblo President Joe Garcia. The Council's members include 29 experts in early childhood education, K-12 and higher education. One of the Council's subcommittees is the P-3 subcommittee that specifically addresses ECE and its place in the larger education system. Legislative recommendations from the committees were sent to the Governor for consideration at the end of 2007.
Colorado's Children Campaign is an advocacy organization for Colorado's children and works in areas that have significant impact on child well-being including early childhood education, health and K-12 education.
Early Childhood Council of Boulder County has information on their efforts including their system building work, community forums and finance work with the economic impact message, publications and other early care resources.
Smart Start Colorado, launched in 2005, provides a framework for a comprehensive system of early childhood in Colorado. Smart Start works with local early childhood councils to build a system of early childhood supports and services for children birth to age eight and their families. The website has contacts for the early childhood education councils, information on systems building, data, and policy efforts.