US Secretary of Education John King visited Denver this week to applaud the state's success in using a new system for rating child care centers.
Following the $44 million the state received from federal Race to the Top grants in 2013, Colorado used the money to reward reforms and innovation in state and local district K-12 education. The grant paid for Colorado Shines, which is a compulsory quality rating system that has encouraged evaluations on over 4,400 centers. The result is that roughly 20,000 child care employees are undergoing online training.
Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio reports that in January, three-quarters of the state's centers were given the lowest rating of 1 on a scale of 1 to 5. The score means that the centers did even meet the basic safety and health specifications. But Executive Director of Colorado Department of Human Services Reggie Bicha believes such low ratings are about to change:
"I anticipate over the next two to three years, we will see the percentage of child care workers operating at a level 3 or 4 or a level 5 to increase substantially," Bicha said.
During his visit, King visited a child care center and officiated a forum with education leaders and early learning supporters.
For the most part, Colorado state officials were optimistic during the roundtable discussions with Mr. King. The conversation was targeted on Colorado Shines' success, with leaders referring to the high enrollment numbers for the Professional Development Information System (PDIS). The online classes offer early childhood instructors classes and the opportunity to track their professional development.
According to Jennifer O'Brien, the Data and Communications Manager for the Colorado Department of Education, since the beginning of the program in 2015 roughly 20,000 people have signed up for PDIS and over 81,000 online courses have been taken and passed:
"When you look at that course completion with a dollar amount, we've delivered over $2 million worth of course work at essentially no cost," O'Brien said.
Secretary King pointed out the undeniable necessity of providing help for English language learners and importance of improving teacher compensation. King explained that preschool teachers make a national average of $28,000 a year, which makes it difficult to recruit teachers and retain them.
He added that teachers need to be able to transfer hours from community colleges to facilitate their moving on to further education and a bachelor's degree.
Bicha said investing in America's children is is the best thing the government can do, and that the youngest students in the state are going to be better prepared for kindergarten and will graduate from college or vocational school — opportunities they would not have if the hard work being done through Colorado Shines was halted.