Reinforcing the Foundation

by Angela Bracero, Early Childhood Teacher, Warren Village

Part 2

You see that little tot right there? That’s my daughter Maya and she is enrolled in the early preschool class at Warren Village. She’s been at the Village since she was ten weeks old, and like me growing up, school is the only thing she’s ever known. My degree is in elementary education and I have a K-6 licensure, but I chose to remain at Warren Village and teach early childhood education. At the end of the day, I know the work I do is important, and I see the results. One of the most amazing things about the work I do is seeing kids who have experienced poverty and trauma flourish and bloom after having their needs appropriately met. I’ve watched struggling, tiny children go through our learning program and exit confident and ready for kindergarten. The foundation that started off weak and unpredictable gradually becomes stable. It’s very fulfilling sending a child off into the world knowing that I made an impact on the adult they one day will become.

As wonderful as our program is at Warren Village, it’s only being replicated in a handful of other centers in Colorado. Not all learning centers and early childhood programs are receiving what they really need to provide accessible, affordable, quality early education to children from all socio-economic groups. The good news is that there are numerous programs designed specially to help high-risk children, however we are far from meeting everyone’s needs.

The average cost of childcare in Colorado in 2018 is $11,988*. In the past few decades, Colorado has created some programs to help families pay for tuition costs. The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) is a voter-approved program that provides tuition assistance to make preschool possible for all Denver families regardless of income, however this support is only available for children residing in the city and county of Denver. Tuition support is based on a family’s income, and the program is exclusively for children who are four years old and enrolled in a preschool or learning center that is part of the program.

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is another essential program that provides tuition assistance for children enrolled in early care and learning programs and is a great service for parents living in a state that has seen a staggering rise in the cost of living, especially in Denver which is 12% higher than the national average. However, the income requirements are low and many families with two working parents often don’t qualify. My own family falls into this category. If I were to apply for CCAP in Denver, my partner and I wouldn’t be eligible as our combined income exceeds the $45,945 dollar per year cap for a family of three. If my job didn’t provide me with an employee discount for my own child to attend, I’d either have to quit and stay home with my daughter or misrepresent our income. I’m not interested in doing either, and I count the blessings my job provides me with every day. Some families are not as fortunate. I often refer to my family and others like us as the stressed “middle folk” – not poor enough to receive government help, but struggling to keep up with the rise in the cost of living.

The other big obstacle is teacher salaries. Early childhood education teachers are the lowest paid teachers in the field. According to ChildCare Aware® of America in Colorado, the average child care professional makes about $27,530 per year. The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Denver is about $1,500 per month, or about $18,000 a year. According to Zillow at the time of this writing the median home value in Denver is $414,700, which would translate into about $1,961 a month, or $23,532 per year.  Many early learning centers prefer teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. I have teacher-friends who, in addition to basic living expenses, are saddled with $400 per month student loan payments. Some centers are offering incentives like sign-on bonuses, tuition support for continuing education, and discounts if an employee needs to enroll their child, however, the turnover rate continues to be high. According to Business Insider, the U.S. is the 12th wealthiest country in the world and yet many educated, well-qualified early childhood teachers are unable to get their basic needs met and are relying on public assistance.

We understand more than ever how the human brain develops, and it’s no longer a secret that the most critical years are our earliest, yet this is not being reflected in how our profession is valued. We as a nation are falling short when it comes to providing quality, affordable, accessible education for our youngest students. I don’t know what the solution is, and I have more questions than answers, but I do know that I can be an advocate and voice for our students, families and our teachers, and I hope that that my words can somehow be a catalyst for the change we need.

*average based on annual cost of care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers in centers and family child care homes – 2018 State Child Care Facts in the State of Colorado – ChildCare Aware® of America

Editor’s note:  Content and views expressed are exclusively that of the blogger.  Some suggested resources for learning more about early childhood advocacy are ChildCare Aware® of AmericaNational Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)  and the Colorado Children’s Campaign

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