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5 Questions for the Governor: Colorado’s Jared Polis

Where do you go for the top news in Early Learning at the state level? Check out “5 Questions for the Governor,” where we’ll explore the top Early Learning challenges and successes in states across the nation. We’re thrilled to partner with The Hunt Institute on this series. Read them all.

1.COVID-19 has presented major challenges to the states during 2020. As you look at the state’s response, what makes you most proud of Coloradans?

Colorado has fared better than many of our neighboring states because the people of this state have been taking this pandemic seriously — wearing masks, staying at home, keeping their distance from others, practicing proper hygiene and protecting at-risk populations like older Coloradans and those with underlying health conditions. I’m proud that by-and-large, Coloradans are doing right by each other. We wouldn’t be making progress as a state if people were ignoring these crucial public health recommendations. We need to keep our guard up and continue to take the proper precautions because the hard truth is we’re going to be living with COVID-19 until there is a cure, a vaccine, or — heaven forbid — herd immunity where a large percentage of the population becomes infected and recovers. We need to remember that we’re all in this together and we all have a responsibility to one another so we can get past this pandemic and come out the other side stronger.

2.When essential staff needed access to child care this spring, you oversaw the launch of a unique public-private partnership in the Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative. What was the state able to accomplish with the support of philanthropy, advocacy groups and other partners that it might not have been able to on a purely governmental basis?

“The Emergency Child Care Collaborative was a great example of what can happen when we come together during challenging times to help fellow Coloradans. –Governor Jared Polis
The public-private partnership gave Colorado the opportunity to respond to this crisis very quickly. This was a huge effort. Thanks to funding from Centura Health and the Buell Foundation, in addition to available state funds, we were able to offer child care free-of-charge immediately, before federal funding arrived in the state. This removed any barriers for families who may not have been able to pay otherwise.

The public-private partnership also meant we had diverse experts working on this challenge from the beginning. Our partners in philanthropy and advocacy quickly recognized the problem that would occur during this crisis: that families of essential workers might lose needed child care, and that child care providers might see drops in enrollment. We needed to match those who had lost care with those who were ready and able to provide it, to support both families and the child care sector.

We worked with Nanno, a technology company, and our existing network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies across the state, to offer parents multiple ways to find the care that they needed, and support providers by matching them with families who needed care. Our child care licensing team and public health officials at the state were able to quickly offer guidance to child care providers to ensure children and staff at child care facilities were safe and healthy.

When we look at these efforts, it’s the outcomes that speak to how much this partnership was able to accomplish. We served 5,226 children at 515 child care providers across the state. I’m particularly proud of how this effort helped our health care workers, those on the frontlines in our hospitals and nursing homes. We served 1,592 families in the health care sector, that’s over 2,360 children. The Emergency Child Care Collaborative was a great example of what can happen when we come together during challenging times to help fellow Coloradans.

3.You oversaw the expansion of full-day kindergarten in Colorado and campaigned for governor as a supporter of expanding prekindergarten. Why do you see these investments as critical to the prosperity of Colorado?

Early childhood education, including full-day kindergarten and high-quality preschool, are critical for helping to ensure that every child gets a strong start that prepares them for success in school and in life. While many states, including Oklahoma, had free full-day kindergarten, Colorado parents were paying up to $500 per month for their children to attend a full-day program. For many parents, this meant less money in their pockets available to pay for groceries or their mortgage. Some even decided not to work so that they could stay home with their kids. Free full-day kindergarten helped our economy by saving parents money, allowing them to return to the workforce earlier, and it helped children gain the critical academic and social skills they needed to thrive.

Just like full-day kindergarten, decades of research demonstrates that high-quality preschool increases academic and social skills, helps prevent achievement gaps before they start, and helps improve our economy. These proven outcomes are why it is critical that all of Colorado’s children should have this opportunity, which is why I have prioritized universal preschool. I am thrilled that the legislature has referred a measure to the voters that will lead to high-quality preschool for all four-year old children by 2023.

4.You recently appointed new members to Colorado’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission. What are the greatest benefits of bringing a diverse set of Colorado stakeholders to the table to work on behalf of kids?

In communities across America, we are having a long-overdue conversation about how to break down the structural inequities that exist across the spectrum of American life. It is so important to apply an equity lens to early childhood education so that we can stop the achievement gap before it starts and ensure that every Colorado child has a great start and a path to future success.

The diverse backgrounds and learning needs of young children throughout our state and nation demand that their adult representatives reflect this diversity. That is the only way all children and families in Colorado will be supported. As the state’s early childhood advisory council responsible for recommending to me and other decision-makers a wide range of public policy changes, the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC) must consist of individuals with a wide variety of perspectives, experiences, emphases and backgrounds. The ECLC includes leaders from five different state agencies covering human services, education, higher education and health, and is comprised of providers, parents, local decision-makers, nonprofits and foundation and business leaders.

Through my appointments to the ECLC last year and this year, we’ve placed a premium on racial, ethnic, gender and geographic diversity, as appropriately required by state law, recognizing the fundamental need of this entity to speak up for children of all backgrounds. As the commission considers the weighty issues of the direction of the state’s programs, systems and policies for young children through legislation, rules, funding and services, it is imperative that we recognize and address the inequities that exist in education. This focus on diversity is how we reach a higher level of common understanding and make the best collective decisions on behalf of all children in our state.

5.You’re the father of two young children. How has fatherhood made you a better Governor?

For starters, it makes you think about how the decisions you make today will impact people 20, 50, 100 years down the road. True leadership is planting trees knowing you may not be around to enjoy their shade — and being a father helps to put that in perspective.

But also, children show you wisdom in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Two summers ago, Marlon and I were having a conversation with our son Caspian, who was 6 at the time. He wanted to know the difference between all the various political parties — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green and so on. And at the end, he went over to his 4-year-old sister Cora and asked her, “What political party are you in?” And without missing a beat she answered, “the Happy Birthday Party.”

It was one of those moments every parent experiences, where your child shows you wisdom you can’t get from most adults — making us remember that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us, and that we should be looking out for each other and doing right by each other regardless of political party or any other part of our background.

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