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Supporting early childhood services

Arn Menconi

By now you’ve heard that Referendum 1A addresses: early childhood care and learning, social-emotional development, access to affordable health care, and family support and development. But the needs are much more specific, and those needs were identified when the Eagle County Board of Commissioners launched the Early Childhood Study in February 2005.

One hundred people from all parts of the county participated in the year-long development of this early childhood plan, which resulted in a community effort to identify early childhood needs and opportunities for enhanced programs and services. The needs were so dramatic, I asked the Board of County Commissioner to place Referendum 1A on the ballot.

Referendum 1A money will be used to expand licensed child care centers and family care homes. Even more specifically, the Early Childhood Study identified strategies to increase infant/toddler child care spaces by 560, and preschool spaces by 115. Financial assistance for early care and learning was also identified in the form of child care credits for working families and grants to early childhood programs to support the cost of quality, licensed care. Quality improvement and capacity grants to early childhood programs could help reduce the cost of care to all parents. Other critical early care and learning gaps include quality staff and teacher turnover. Only 7 percent of early childhood teachers in the county have a degree, and the average turnover rate for child care workers is nearly 34 percent.

Referendum 1A money could be used to help train quality teachers and provide incentives to teachers with early childhood degrees to reduce turnover. Compared with high schools or universities, child care spending offers a relatively high return because the cost of early education is lower; and because much of a child’s cognitive ability is formed before reaching kindergarten.

We also recognize that good parenting skills and healthy families are the primary source for successful early childhood development. Referendum 1A could help with parent education by providing services like parent-to-parent learning groups, parent resource centers, and school/community partnerships that will connect families, schools and communities to improve student health and academic achievement. Nurse/family partnerships can be established to improve pregnancy outcomes, improve child health and competent care giving, and enhance parental ability to achieve educational and employment goals.

The Early Childhood Study also identified some dramatic gaps in child health and safety. Up to 25 percent of Eagle County households report they have no health insurance, and 20 percent of low-income pregnant women don’t have access to early pre-natal care. Referendum 1A would be used to provide pre-natal care, well-child care and immunizations. We can establish school based and community health clinics to provide medical, dental and mental health services.

Once 1A passes the Board of County Commissioner will form a board of professionals in the field of early childhood development to make recommendation as to how the funds get spent. Without action, gaps in programs and services will force families from our community, place kids at risk and threaten the quality of our schools. Referendum 1A can go a long way to closing the gaps and making Eagle County a better place for all of us.

This temporary mil levy increase will cost most homeowners less than 95 cents a week. It’s a small investment in our community, and in the long run it benefits all of us. Vote YES on 1A. For more information visit the Eagle County Cares for Kids Web site (www.eaglecountycares.org) on how you can make a difference for our children and our community.

Arn Menconi is an Eagle County Commissioner.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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