Stein’s column: Early childhood education is about to run out

Rob Stein

Although early childhood education has one of the highest returns of any educational program, it is undervalued and underfunded. But statewide and local efforts aim to change that, making it accessible to all children in our community.

The first years of life are the most formative for future development. Children who have a nurturing early childhood education (ECE) in the pre-kindergarten years show healthy cognitive development, better academic performance, fewer social-emotional difficulties, and even more successful careers later in life. Years after preschool, the effects can be measured in terms of reduced remedial classes, crime rates and unemployment. Studies have shown that high-quality early childhood programs can yield $4-7 for every dollar invested.

The beneficiaries of ECE are not limited to the children themselves. Employers rely on kindergartens to provide childcare for their workers. Affordable ECE empowers parents to take jobs, advance their education, and contribute to their communities. Society is benefiting from lower costs in areas such as special education, health care and criminal justice. When available and affordable, ECE is a win for everyone.

Colorado voters approved the EE Proposal, a ballot initiative to fund early childhood education by raising taxes on tobacco products, by a two-to-one margin in 2020. As of August 2023, education preschool will be free for all 4-year-olds for 10 hours per week. In addition, the state is creating a new Early Childhood Agency, bringing everything related to early childhood into one cabinet-level department and raising the stature of the ECE. Local agencies will be established in each region to help families access funding and navigate enrollment.

While it is promising to see the state prioritizing ECE, these ambitious statewide plans leave many questions unanswered. There are questions about the ability of our current network of ECE providers to cope with a potential increase in enrollment, and how to support funding and quality in various programs ranging from large school districts to private preschools. through home child care. The state has yet to determine which agency will coordinate work in the Roaring Fork Valley.

In addition to finding enough physical spaces to house the programs, there is already a shortage of early childhood educators, exacerbated by chronically low wages in the field. Since preschool underfunding is even worse than K-12 education, and there may be fewer students per teacher in a preschool classroom, ECE teachers receive about half the salaries of K-12 teachers. Even though salary increases at Roaring Fork schools will raise our ECE teacher salaries above the top third of local salaries, typical ECE teachers start at around $18 an hour. Our society is slow to value ECE in the same way that it values ​​other important professions.

Roaring Fork schools work with local agencies and other preschool providers to prepare for the transition. We have just completed our own strategic roadmap for ECE by engaging a wide range of stakeholders to assess the current state of ECE in the district and to reimagine a future direction for our youngest students. After a series of interviews, focus groups and planning sessions with educators, parents and community partners, we established a vision that all families have access to high quality early childhood education, affordable, culturally and linguistically appropriate that prepares students for kindergarten and beyond.

In order to achieve this ambitious vision, we plan to expand our hours and days of operation, and eventually offer year-round 10-hour programming for working families. In addition to helping families access funding through the EE Proposal and other public sources, we will pilot a sliding-scale tuition program for employees of Roaring Fork schools in the next school year. .

Quantity must go hand in hand with quality. Therefore, we will invest in the educational resources and professional development of our teaching staff, improving culturally appropriate teaching, bilingual teaching and support for students with special needs. Our preschools must not only reflect our community in terms of enrollment, but also respond to the linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity and needs of our families.

Aided by factory levy funding approved by voters last November, and consistent with state programs and resources, we will be able to further invest in building teacher pipelines through scholarships and internships for future educators.

The ECE landscape is rapidly changing in Colorado, and we are preparing for changes in funding, programs, educator credentials, and family services. Early childhood is finally about to have its day, and Roaring Fork Schools, in partnership with the local preschool community, will be ready to seize it.

Rob Stein is Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.


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