(Photo: Courtesy of Qualistar Colorado)

In many regions of Colorado, child care costs more than college. But in a new report, advocates for children outline a host of ways to make it more affordable. 

The state is the fifth-least affordable state for center-based child care.  Depending on where you live in the state, child care costs between $6,000 and $17,000 a year.

Single mothers, who earn on average just over $26,000 annually, are the most vulnerable group. 

“Child care costs are averaging half of that median income for single mothers,” said Louise Myland of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. If she has two young children needing child care, “self-sufficiency is virtually impossible.” 

In their first two reports, the Women’s Foundation, Qualistar Colorado and the Colorado Children’s Campaign, dug into why child care is so expensive.

In the final report, advocates are recommending six strategies to make child care more affordable in Colorado.

1. Expand access to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP)

Advocates are calling on state lawmakers to fully fund recent reforms aimed at expanding access to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, which provides subsidies for families to be able to afford child care.

  • Raise income eligibility requirements:  Colorado has one of the lowest thresholds for who is eligible for CCAP.
  • Fund co-pay subsidies: Colorado historically has had one of highest co-pays in the country. Last year the Legislature readjusted that schedule but advocates want to make sure there’s adequate funding.
  • Raise reimbursement rates to child care providers: Rates child care programs are compensated for caring for children participating in CCAP fall below federal recommended level and below what child care providers needs to provide.

"Without adequate reimbursement rates, that cost is then passed on to families," said Bill Jaeger of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. "It becomes a hidden cost driver for those families that are participating in the Child Care Assistance Program."

2. Expand access to the Colorado Preschool Program and other local initiatives

Colorado is one of 40 states that have state-funded preschool in the form of the Colorado Preschool Program. But fewer than one in four children are able to access it. More than 6,000 children are on the waiting list.

“Even for those who are in the program, average funding per slot is only about $3,300 per year whereas price for preschool in Colorado is just less than $10,000 per year,” Jaeger said.

The advocacy groups are recommending more investment in city-run programs like Boulder’s and Aspen’s and a replication of these programs in other regions.

3. Expand federal investments in child care affordability

Federal funds that go to child care have declined almost $1 billion over the past 10 years.  Congress just reauthorized the giant child care block grant and is authorizing discretionary funding increases of $400 million over the next six years. Along with that, there are several policy changes so advocates want to make sure those are adequately funded.

4. Provide incentives for businesses

Advocates say employers can help families afford by providing subsidized on-site child care facilities. They also encourage job sharing, flex-time, working away from the site part time, and allowing workers to request hours so families can manage their child care needs. The group, Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC) has developed an employer’s tool kit to aid businesses.

5. Explore innovative practices to improve efficiency

Providers often tasked with “blending and braiding” different funding streams, which drives up administrative costs. For example, to afford childcare, a family might have a combination of  CCAP subsidies, local initiative dollars, like the Denver Preschool program, federal Head Start funds, and parent tuition.

“The parent knows that they need full-day, full-year care, and the provider knows they need a certain amount per child to make ends meet,” Jaeger said. “How do we alleviate the burden on both the parent and provider when dealing with some of the inefficiencies of having to blend and braid those multiple funding streams? There are some strategies to help with efficiencies.”

Advocates would also like to see more incentives for businesses that set up child care facilities. There are significant start-up costs, such as reconfiguring home to comply with licensing expectations. Those costs are passed on to parents, Jaeger said.

The groups recommend small business loans or micro-loans with favorable repayment terms subsidized with state dollars, targeting public investments in child care facilities so cost of getting licensed and cost of getting quality are not exclusively born by parents paying tuition.

6. Provide families with accessible information on child care options and sources of assistance

Many resources exist, such as the statewide network of Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) coordinated by Qualistar Colorado, 2-1-1 Colorado, and Colorado’s Program Eligibility and Application Toolkit (PEAK). Advocates would like to see more attention to consumer education and outreach efforts.