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Colorado Early Childhood Compensation & Benefits Task Force

Colorado’s Early Childhood Compensation & Benefits Task Force was launched by the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood to address the under compensation of the early childhood workforce. Specifically, its charge was to develop a compensation and benefits plan for Colorado’s early childhood workforce, building on previous work done for the Early Childhood Workforce 2020 plan. Afton, in partnership with the Center for Early Learning Funding Equity and Pillars Research & Strategy, provided facilitation and research services for the Task Force. Task Force members included individuals with expertise in early childhood policy, workforce development, higher education, advocacy, research, policy implementation, community business and more.

To develop final recommendations, the Task Force created an intentional statewide stakeholder engagement process with early childhood educators who work in a variety of roles and setting types. Specifically, four virtual focus groups were held, and a survey was distributed in both English and Spanish to gather feedback on lived experience as well as on draft recommendations.

The final report can be found here.

High-level recommendations included:

  • Three salary scales tied to education, experience and roles within the early childhood field representing three different average cost of living regions within the state of Colorado. The salary scales provide a road map for state action and investment in fairly compensating the early childhood workforce.
  • An early childhood educator stipend as a short-term solution designed to support retention among early educators. All instructional, administrative, and support staff in all settings (except family, friend and neighbor care) would receive a base level, recurring payment. Additional targeted stipends would go to priority educators including: infant and toddler staff, multilingual educators, staff employed by providers located in regional shortage areas, and staff employed by providers that serve more than 20 percent of children who are eligible for CCCAP, UPK Additional Hours Eligible, or Head Start/Early Head Start.

In addition to wages, the Task Force recognized that benefits are a critical part of any compensation package. Stakeholders reported that the three benefits most important to them are: health insurance, retirement, and paid time off. The final report includes detailed memos on considerations for improving these three benefits for early childhood staff, though more work is needed to turn these into actionable recommendations.

Finally, the report also included considerations for state funding of these recommendations including completing an up-to-date, comprehensive cost and revenue model and determining a funding mechanism to provide stable resources for this increased compensation.

Our Insights

Stakeholder engagement is critical. The issue of early childhood compensation affects many stakeholders – educators, families, businesses, and the broader community. The Colorado Department of Early Childhood and Department of Higher Education took a thoughtful approach in staffing this Task Force with the relevant expertise. Additionally, the Task Force invested time in gathering input from early childhood educators themselves through focus groups and survey feedback. This stakeholder engagement led to powerful realizations not captured in the available quantitative data including: 1) stipends are more impactful than bonuses to many educators and 2) health insurance, retirement and paid time off are the most valuable benefits to educators. These insights directly influenced the Task Force’s recommendations.

While challenges with early childhood compensation are national, Colorado’s context is particularly challenging. The high cost of living in the state makes the under-compensation of this workforce particularly difficult for educators. In anchoring the salary scales to elementary teacher salaries, we also found that elementary school teachers are under-compensated relative to the rest of the nation. This led to a recommendation for the state to explore and increase teacher salaries more broadly. Compensation of the early childhood workforce needs to be addressed across the nation, but a “cut and paste” approach simply won’t work.

Stats & Impact

Afton believes the implementation of these recommendations will have broad, meaningful impacts on the state of Colorado, including:

  • An increase in wages for workers to afford the high cost of living in the state.
    • The current average pay for a child care worker in Colorado is ~$16/hour or $30,350 annually; compared to $57,870 annually for a Kindergarten teacher.
  • A decrease in turnover and staffing shortages in the early childhood field.
    • Providers are reporting staff turnover rates ranging from 16-22%.
    • 72% of providers are having significant challenges filling open positions.
  • A decrease in use of public benefit programs by early childhood staff.
    • 1/3 of Colorado’s early childhood workers receive public assistance.