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Growing Young Learners

The Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition Works to Address the Valley's Child Care Crisis and Shortage of Early Childhood Education Opportunities

The Reality

The Roaring Fork Valley is an incredible place to raise a family. But at what cost? 

“If we had both of our children in full-time care, we would be spending $2,400 a month on child care—more than our mortgage,” a dad of two in Glenwood Springs reveals. 

This experience is pretty typical. A recent report from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments found that $27,055 is the annual cost of having an infant and four year old in full time care in the state of Colorado. This translates to 33 percent of the median income. 

But affording child care isn’t the only problem—many families simply can’t find it here, at all. 

“Shortly after I got pregnant, I started calling around to childcare centers. I quickly learned that I was late to the game; I would have had to get on a waitlist before I was pregnant, before I was married. Actually, before I knew I would be living in the Roaring Fork Valley,” says a working mom of one living downvalley.

The Importance

The shortage of child care and early learning opportunities—due to lack of capacity overall and the cost barriers—is a real challenge for working families and, in turn, the economy, as businesses need parents in the labor force. 

“Accessible and affordable childcare is a critical element to retaining employees with young families,” states Aspen Skiing Company, one of the larger employers in the valley.

While early childhood care and education is critical in supporting today’s workforce, it is also key in ensuring the next generation of workers and leaders. 

Research shows that a child’s first few years lay a critical foundation for academic and life success. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child shares key data and research about the importance of the early childhood period: 

  • In the first few years of life, more than one million new neural connections are formed every second. 
  • After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient. 
  • Ninety percent of a child’s brain development happens before the age of five. 

Understanding brain science, many researchers have worked to measure how early experiences, both positive and negative, impact lifelong success. Perhaps most compelling is the work of Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman, who found that every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13 percent per annum return on investment.

The Opportunity

The Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition is a group of child advocates (from the business and education sectors, along with non-profit leaders and parents) in the Roaring Fork Valley region. We have been working together since 2017 to expand access to high quality early education opportunities for all members of our economically diverse, rural-resort community. 

The Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition believes: 

  1. Early Childhood is an Equity Strategy: We believe that creating a robust and equitable early childhood system to support families with young children, prenatal to age five, is essential to our region’s economic and social success and a critical step toward addressing the structural economic disparities we face. 
  2. Public Policy is One Essential Lever: We believe that securing dedicated public funding streams and implementing sound public policy to support all families with young children is essential to making sustainable change. 
  3. Multi-Stakeholder Approach is Crucial: We believe that the whole community has a vested interest in the long-term success of children in the community and therefore the whole community has a role to play in making transformative change that creates opportunity for all kids here. 
  4. Unique Perspective to Inform State Policy: We believe that as an economically and culturally diverse, rural-resort community, we have an important voice to bring to state level policy conversations. 
  5. Regional Approach: We believe that the nature of our community and economy requires us to act regionally about strategies to support families with young children. 

If you share these beliefs and are interested in learning more or joining this effort, please contact us. You can also learn about the coalition’s parent organization, Manaus, at Manaus.org.

Katie Langenhuizen is the policy coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition and is a working mom of two kids, ages four and two. Reach her at Katie@Manaus.org.

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