SONIA-BROWN-02042021-KS-100

BROOMFIELD, CO - FEBRUARY 4: Sonia Brown has been providing child care from her home for over 20 years, and spends her morning playing games with six young children on February 4, 2021 in Broomfield, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

The state awarded $21.5 million in grants to child care organizations across Colorado to help address challenges that arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Early Childhood distributed the money through the Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity (CIRCLE) Grant program, funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Nearly 200 organizations in 52 counties received the one-year grants, averaging more than $110,000 each. The funds went to 106 early care and education providers, 19 early childhood councils and 63 statewide and local nonprofit organizations.

“On the heels of the pandemic, this support is absolutely critical,” said Dr. Lisa Roy, executive director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood. “The Department of Early Childhood is thrilled to fund projects promoting innovation and equity across our early childhood system, ensuring the organizations that care for our youngest Coloradans and their families are well-supported.”

Grant recipients may use the money to fund projects to make child care more affordable, fill gaps in infant and toddler care, boost the child care workforce, expand business support and promote the health, development and education of children.

This comes as Colorado struggles through an acute child care shortage that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated.

In Colorado, an average family with two young children spends $28,600 on child care annually, according to federal data, and single parents pay on average 49.5% of their income on infant child care, according to a Child Care Aware of America report.

Some families can't find child care at all.

In Colorado, 51% of residents live in “child care deserts,” where there are more than three times as many children as there are licensed child care slots, according to Mile High United Way.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic closed around 7% of licensed child care centers in Colorado, providers only had the capacity to serve 62% of the state's 246,000 kids under 6 whose parents both work, according to a report that cited 2019 figures. That meant a shortage of more than 90,000 child care slots statewide.

The CIRCLE Grant program was one of four child care grant programs created by Senate Bill 236, which lawmakers passed in 2021. This is part of a wave of recent legislation policymakers approved to boost the child care industry, including a $100 million investment that went into effect this month.

“We are proud to partner with Gov. Polis and the Colorado Department of Early Childhood to support the CIRCLE initiative,” said Jennifer Stedron, executive director of Early Milestones Colorado, which administered the grants. “This important investment advances innovation and equity for our state’s young children, their families and the providers who serve them every day.”

The CIRCLE program will distribute another round of grants in August.

Licensed early child care and education organizations can apply for the grants from Aug. 1 through Aug. 26 at earlymilestones.org or by emailing circle@earlymilestones.org.

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