Department Early Childhood And Universal Preschool Program
Concerning the department of early childhood, and, in connection therewith, establishing the duties of the department of early childhood and the executive director of the department, relocating early childhood programs from the departments of human services and education to the department of early childhood, creating the Colorado universal preschool program, and making and adjusting appropriations.
Operations of the department of early childhood: The act establishes the powers, functions, and responsibilities of the department of early childhood (department) and the executive director of the department (executive director) in overseeing and administering early childhood and family support programs and services (programs and services). The act relocates most programs and services from the department of human services and the department of education to the department, effective July 1, 2022. The authority to operate a preschool program transfers from the department of education to the department on July 1, 2023. The department may enter into memoranda of understanding and interagency agreements to allow the department of human services and the department of education to continue operating programs and services, as necessary, to accomplish the transfer of programs, personnel, property, records, information systems, and funding to the department over time without interruption of service. Any existing contracts, claims, and liabilities that pertain to the transferred programs and functions transfer to the department. The rules that pertain to a particular program or function that is transferred to the department remain in effect and apply to the department and to persons or entities affected by the programs and functions until the executive director repromulgates the rules. The department is authorized to accept, use, and administer federal money made available for the purpose of early childhood programs and services operated by the department.
Department rules: The act authorizes the executive director to promulgate rules for the department and the programs and services administered by the department. The department of regulatory agencies must review the executive director's exercise of rule-making authority, and the rule-making authority is repealed September 1, 2024. The executive director is required to convene a 15-member rules advisory council (council) to provide consultation and advice with regard to the rules of the department and the programs and services the department administers. The membership of the council includes a variety of persons who have experience with programs and services. The executive director must provide a written explanation if the executive director does not follow the advice of the council in promulgating rules.
The department is required to:
- Exercise specified functions while adhering to specified principles;
- Develop and implement a single, unified electronic application for families to use in applying for all publicly funded early childhood programs and services the department administers. The application must be functional by July 1, 2023, for purposes of the Colorado universal preschool program (preschool program).
- Work with local coordinating organizations, state and local agencies, and program providers to collect, share, manage, use, and protect data pertaining to programs and services. The department must regularly inform the public of progress made in improving the delivery of programs and services.
- Contract with a public or private entity to independently evaluate the department's governance and performance after the first 3 years of operation and to evaluate early childhood programs and services that were not transferred to the department and recommend whether to transfer those programs and services. By November 1, 2025, the independent evaluator must submit the report to the governor, the early childhood leadership commission, and committees of the general assembly.
- Collaborate with other state departments to prepare an annual report concerning transitioning and implementing programs and services and cross-agency collaboration. The department shall include the report in its annual hearing pursuant to the "State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent (SMART) Government Act".
Local coordinating organizations: The act directs the department to solicit applications from local public entities and nonprofit organizations to serve as local coordinating organizations (LCOs) in communities throughout the state. The department must review the applications and, to the extent possible, select an LCO for every community in the state. If there is an area for which an LCO is not selected, the department will serve as the LCO until an organization is selected. An LCO is responsible for working with the families, program and service providers, and local governments in the community and with the department to increase access to, coordinate, and allocate funding for program and service providers in the community. The specified responsibilities of the LCO, include adoption of a community plan (plan), subject to approval by the department, to address specified issues, including:
- Assisting families in applying for programs and services;
- Recruiting and ensuring a mixed delivery system of public and private preschool program providers;
- Allocating funding among providers, based on parent choice, to maximize funding to meet community needs for programs and services;
- Supporting increased recruitment and retention of individuals in the early care and education workforce;
- Securing additional local resources and funding for programs and services; and
- Providing transparency concerning the amount of money available for and used to support programs and services.
The department shall enter into a coordinator agreement with each LCO that specifies the duties of the LCO in implementing the plan; other responsibilities the LCO must meet, including responsibilities concerning the preschool program; performance expectations that the LCO must meet; and the duties of the department to support and assist the LCO. The term of the initial coordinator agreement is 3 years and subsequent agreements must have 3- to 5-year terms. At the conclusion of a coordinator agreement, the department must solicit and review LCO applications for the community and may select the same or a new organization to serve as the LCO. The department has specified duties in working with LCOs, including annually reviewing each LCO's performance.
Transfer of department of human services programs: Effective July 1, 2022, the act transfers the authority for the following programs and functions from the department of human services to the department. The programs are relocated without substantive change, except as noted:
- Early childhood councils;
- Family resource centers;
- The child abuse prevention trust fund;
- The child care services and substance use disorder treatment pilot program;
- Early intervention services for infants and toddlers;
- The Colorado nurse home visitor program;
- Social-emotional learning programs grant program. The act codifies the social-emotional learning programs grant program, currently operated by the department of human services as the incredible years program, to provide grants to operate programs for teachers and parents and directly for young children. The department shall administer the grant program in collaboration with an implementation partner that the department selects. The act specifies the duties of the implementation partner, the grant application requirements, and the program and curriculum requirements a grantee must meet.
- The early childhood mental health consultation program;
- Emergency relief grant programs;
- Family-strengthening home visiting programs. Before passage of the act, the department of human services operated family-strengthening home visiting programs under its broad authority for child welfare services. The act creates specific authority for the department to operate these programs, specifying minimum requirements that the programs must meet to receive grant funding and requirements for the department to select and work with implementation partners.
- The Colorado child care assistance program (CCCAP). The act recognizes the department as the sole state agency for administering CCCAP, authorizes the department to accept money and property on behalf of CCCAP, and specifies the department's powers and duties in implementing CCCAP. By July 1, 2025, and every 3 years thereafter, the department, after consulting with county departments of human and social services (county) and child care providers, shall develop a calculation for provider rates with the goal of eventually more accurately reflecting the cost of child care. The department shall identify and recruit providers throughout the state to participate in the CCCAP. The act creates the child care assistance program allocation committee to provide recommendations to the department concerning a formula for allocating block grant funding to counties. The executive director may adjust the percentage of the federal poverty rate used to determine eligibility for child care assistance in order to align eligibility across early care and education programs to the extent allowed by federal law. Effective July 1, 2023, a county shall not require a person who applies for child care assistance to participate in child support establishment, modification, or enforcement services. Beginning July 1, 2023, a county may give priority for services to a working family over a family enrolled in postsecondary education or workforce training only if the county does not have sufficient funding and has approval for the prioritization from the department. Each county shall pay providers for care in alignment with common private-market practices, and the department rules for payment policies must allow daily reimbursement rates only in specific circumstances and must incentivize providers to promote regular program attendance. The executive director shall adopt rules pertaining to children who are enrolled in both CCCAP and the preschool program to ensure funds may be combined and coordinated at the state and local levels and eligibility and authorization for services are aligned, to the extent practicable. The act expands the information that the department must annually report regarding implementation of CCCAP. Each county must enter into an annual performance contract with the department with regard to implementing CCCAP. The act recreates, without substantive change, provisions concerning recoveries from CCCAP recipients of fraudulent or excess payments, location of recipients for purposes of recoveries, confidential records, and state income tax refund offsets.
- Quality improvement initiatives for early childhood care and education programs;
- Colorado infant and toddler quality and availability grant program;
- Child care licensing. The act transfers from the department of human services to the department the authority for licensing child care centers, family child care homes, and other facilities generally providing less than 24-hour care for children. The licensing authority is transferred without substantive change except for the creation of a public preschool provider license that is focused on ensuring the health and safety of children in public preschool classrooms. The authority for licensing residential and day treatment facilities and child placement agencies remains in the department of human services.
- Early childhood workforce development. The act requires the department to create a plan for recruiting, training, and retaining a well-compensated, well-prepared, high-quality early childhood workforce and specifies the issues to be addressed. The department must make the plan publicly available on the department's website and submit a copy to the early childhood leadership commission, the governor's office, and committees of the general assembly. The department must collaborate with other state departments to periodically review and assess the implementation of recruitment, preparation, professional development, and retention initiatives for the early childhood workforce.
Transfer of department of education programs: Effective July 1, 2022, responsibilities concerning early childhood workforce development, including the professional development information system, are transferred from the department of education to the department. Effective July 1, 2023, the authority to operate a statewide preschool program transfers from the department of education to the department.
Colorado universal preschool program: The act creates the Colorado universal preschool program to provide 10 hours per week of preschool services for children in the year preceding eligibility for kindergarten (universal preschool services); preschool services for all 3- and 4-year-old children with disabilities in accordance with their individualized education programs; preschool services for a limited number of 3-year-old children who are in low-income families or meet qualifying factors; preschool services for children younger than 3 years of age in limited circumstances; and additional hours of preschool services in the year preceding eligibility for kindergarten (additional preschool services) for children who are in low-income families or meet qualifying factors.
The department shall administer the preschool program, which will begin enrolling students for the 2023-24 school year. The department shall work with the LCOs to make available throughout the state a mixed delivery system of public and private preschool providers to accommodate parent choice. The executive director shall, by rule, establish quality standards that preschool providers must meet. The department shall collaborate with the department of education through an interagency agreement to ensure all 3- and 4-year-old children with disabilities are served in accordance with federal and state requirements for children with disabilities.
The department shall implement a process of continuous evaluation and improvement for preschool providers and contract with an independent evaluator to measure the preschool program's success in improving the overall learning and school readiness of the children whom the preschool program serves. The department shall publicly communicate the evaluation results and consider the results in reviewing the preschool quality standards; recruiting, training, and retaining a high-quality early childhood workforce; and establishing goals for the preschool program.
The department shall annually establish per-child rates for universal preschool services; preschool services for 3- and 4-year-old children with disabilities; preschool services for children 3 years of age and, in limited circumstances, younger; and additional preschool services. The department shall by rule establish the formulas for determining the per-child rates, taking into account the cost of providing preschool services, special education maintenance of effort funding requirements, and variations in the cost resulting from regional differences and circumstances and from characteristics of children who enroll in the preschool program. In allocating the preschool funding, the department must prioritize funding for universal preschool services; preschool services for 3- and 4-year-old children with disabilities; and preschool services for other 3-year-old, and in limited circumstances younger, children up to a specified amount. The department may then allocate funding for additional preschool services, first for children who are in low-income families and meet qualifying factors, and for specified purposes.
Funding for the preschool program is paid from money credited and appropriated to the preschool programs cash fund (fund), which consists of a portion of the taxes collected on sales of cigarettes and other tobacco and nicotine products and other amounts that the general assembly transfers or appropriates to the fund. For the 2023-24 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, the general assembly is required to transfer to the fund an amount equal to the difference in the state share of total program calculated for the 2022-23 fiscal year with and without preschool students, increased annually thereafter by the rate of inflation.
Beginning in January of 2024, the department shall include in its annual "SMART Act" report specified information concerning implementation of the preschool program and post the information on the department's website.
Online kindergarten readiness pilot program. The act creates the new online kindergarten readiness pilot program (pilot program) to provide parents access to a voluntary, online kindergarten readiness program to serve children in the year before eligibility for kindergarten. The department must conduct a statewide survey and issue a request for information to identify a provider for the pilot program. Subject to the availability of appropriations for the 2023-24 fiscal year, the department may contract with a provider to operate the pilot program and must report on the implementation of the pilot program. The pilot program is repealed, effective July 1, 2029.
Conforming amendments. The act makes substantive and technical conforming amendments to address the relocation of programs and functions to the department, including re-creating the provisions for licensing residential and day treatment facilities and child care placement agencies by the department of human services.
Appropriations. The act appropriates money to the department for operations, including operations of programs and functions that are transferred from the department of human services. The act makes conforming amendments to appropriations made in the 2022-23 annual general appropriations bill, including reducing to zero the appropriations made to the department of human services for the programs that are transferred to the department and appropriating those amounts to the department.