Colorado may soon allow special districts to be formed to run early childhood care | VailDaily.com

Colorado may soon allow special districts to be formed to run early childhood care

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily News
Wilkes Morse learns Spanish from his kindergarten teacher Yessenia Infante, Wednesday, Dec. 5, at Dillon Valley Elementary School. State lawmakers are looking to allow communities to create special districts across the state specifically for early childhood care. Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com

State lawmakers are looking to address the overwhelming need for early childhood education and care in Colorado with a recently introduced bill allowing for the creation of special districts specifically designed to provide services for children from birth through 8 years of age.

The bill has bipartisan sponsors in Reps. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Janice Rich (R-Grand Junction) and Sens. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village) and Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale).

McCluskie said that the bill is primarily meant to help communities where early child care is prohibitively expensive and providers are in short supply, and where other efforts to raise funds within the community have failed.

“This would allow communities across the state to create special districts across municipal, county and political boundaries,” McCluskie said.

In Colorado, special districts are local governments of the state. They are at the same level of local government as counties, municipalities, school districts and other types of government entities.

Since Colorado law limits the services counties provide, special districts are created to fill those gaps. Special districts are not made up of property owners, but residents who reside within the district, and are not limited by political boundaries.

McCluskie said that the bill would not require local governments to form districts for early childhood care, it just gives the statutory authority for communities to band together if they choose.

“Special districts can focus on services such as the health and mental health needs along for children with early childhood education and care,” McCluskie said. “The bill does not mandate that any community organize an early childhood care special district or to raise taxes, it just gives the opportunity for groups of spread-out municipalities or counties to come together across boundaries.”

McCluskie cited the Roaring Fork Valley as an example of where a special district may make sense. The valley is split between four different counties and separate school district boundaries. To address early childhood care for residents in the valley, a special district could be created specific to those residents.

McCluskie also said that such a special district could work for urban communities by creating smaller special districts within and across school district boundaries, focusing early childhood services where they are needed.

“It doesn’t need to be an entire county or city, it can just be a smaller area for an early childhood special district,” McCluskie said. “It’s one tool in the toolkit to promote early childhood education and support working families in the places where they live.”

The attempt to make special districts for early childhood education was floated in the Legislature last year, but did not receive enough political support to get far. The new Democratic-controlled state government has used its muscle to get bipartisan initiatives previously on the cusp of passage across the finish line.

McCluskie noted that the special district approach might not necessarily apply to Summit County, which has been successfully raising its own funds for early childhood care and preschool-for-all, such as with the recently passed Ballot Initiative 1A. McCluskie, who was director of communications for Summit School District prior to being elected to office, said she used Summit as a model for what she wants for families in rural communities across the state.

“I hold up Summit often when talking about this bill because I believe we are very unique and fortunate that it comprises the communities it does, and that we’re able to work collaboratively in this one spot of this state,” McCluskie said. “In other, more rural areas, it takes more people and resources at the table. It takes more community partners. By being able to cross political boundaries, it would truly help those rural communities find the success that Summit did.”