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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 bill 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 bill relocates most programs 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 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, 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 (pgs 9-13): The bill authorizes the executive director to promulgate rules for the department and the programs administered by the department. The executive director must convene a 15-member rules advisory council (council) to provide consultation and advice with regard to the rules of the department and the programs administered by the department. The bill establishes the membership of the council to include 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 bill requires the department to:
    ●    Exercise specified functions and the bill specifies principles the department must follow in exercising the functions; (pgs 20-24)
    ●    Develop and implement a single, unified electronic application for families to use to apply 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). (pgs 24-26)
    ●    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. (pgs 26-29)
    ●    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 that were not transferred to the department and recommend whether to transfer those programs. 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. (pgs 29-32)
    ●    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". (pgs 32-34)
    Local coordinating organization (pgs 34-53): The bill 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 bill specifies the responsibilities of the LCO, including the requirement to adopt 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 LCO must submit the proposed plan to the department, and the department may require revisions before approving the plan.
    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 is to 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 bill specifies the department's duties concerning LCOs, including annually reviewing each LCO's performance.
    Transfer of department of human services programs: Effective July 1, 2022, the bill transfers the authority for the following programs and functions from the department of human services to the department. The programs are relocated within the bill without substantive change, except as noted:
    ●    Early childhood councils (pgs 54-64);
    ●    Family resource centers (pgs 65-73);
    ●    The child abuse prevention trust fund (pgs 73-82);
    ●    The child care services and substance use disorder treatment pilot program (pgs 82-84);
    ●    Early intervention services for infants and toddlers (pgs 84-109);
    ●    The Colorado nurse home visitor program (pgs 110-123);
    ●    Social-emotional learning programs grant program (pgs 124-130). The bill 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 bill 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 (pgs 130-138);
    ●    Emergency relief grant programs (pgs 138-160);
    ●    Family-strengthening home visiting programs (pgs 160-164). Under current law, the department of human services operates family-strengthening home visiting programs under its broad authority for child welfare services. The bill 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) (pgs 164-188). The bill requires the department, after consulting with county departments of human and social services and child care providers and by July 1, 2025, to develop a calculation for provider rates that more accurately reflects the cost of child care, while still complying with federal law and procedures. The bill authorizes the executive director to 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 not be based on daily reimbursement rates and must incentivize providers to promote regular program attendance. The bill requires the executive director to adopt rules pertaining to children who are enrolled in both CCCAP and the preschool program to ensure funds may be blended or braided at the state and local levels and eligibility and authorization for services are aligned, to the extent practicable. Each county must enter into an annual performance contract with the department with regard to implementing CCCAP.
    ●    Quality improvement initiatives for early childhood care and education programs (pgs 235-243);
    ●    Colorado infant and toddler quality and availability grant program (pgs 243-247);
    ●    Child care licensing (pgs 247-340). The bill 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 (pgs 340-345). The bill 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, the bill transfers responsibilities concerning early childhood workforce development, including the professional development information system, from the department of education to the department. Effective July 1, 2023, the bill moves the authority to operate a statewide preschool program from the department of education to the department.
    Colorado universal preschool program (pgs 189-231): The bill creates the Colorado universal preschool program to provide 10 hours per week of preschool services for children in the year preceding eligibility for kindergarten including children with disabilities (universal preschool services); preschool services for all 3- and 4-year-old children with disabilities and in accordance with their individualized education programs; preschool services for a limited number of other 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, as described in the bill, 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 children who are served in the preschool program. 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 addition to distributing preschool program funding based on the per-child rates, the department may distribute funding to preschool providers to achieve specified purposes. The department shall distribute the funding to preschool providers throughout the fiscal year based on preschool enrollment, and each preschool provider shall use the funding only to pay the costs of providing preschool services.
    In allocating the preschool funding, the department must prioritize funding for universal preschool services; including services for children with disabilities; 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.
    Each preschool provider that is a school district or charter school shall provide preschool and special education local contribution amounts that are based on the school district's local share of 50% of its per pupil revenues and the number of children enrolled by the school district or charter school in preschool for the 2022-23 fiscal year and the number of 3-year-old children with disabilities that the school district or charter school annually enrolls in preschool. The department shall decrease the amount of preschool funding distributed to each school district and charter school based on the amount of the school district's or charter school's local contributions.
    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 attributable to preschool enrollment for calculated for the 2022-23 fiscal year with and without preschool students, increased annually thereafter by the rate of inflation. plus an amount necessary to ensure that all 3-year-old children with disabilities who are enrolled in the preschool program are funded at the per-child rate for the applicable fiscal year.
    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 (pgs 231-235). The bill 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 (pgs 346-502): The bill 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.
    Appropriation (pgs 502-522). The bill appropriates money to the department for operations, including operations of programs and functions that are transferred from the department of human services. The bill 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.
(Note: Italicized words indicate new material added to the original summary; dashes through words indicate deletions from the original summary.)