Tatiana Ryan, a pre-school teacher at Laredo Preschool, takes advantage of the Educator Emporium, Aug. 11, 2022, filling up a tote bag with supplies for the coming school year. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado

DENVER | Colorado residents interested in early childhood and five other high-demand careers can get training for free starting this fall at more than a dozen community colleges around the state.

It’s part of a new $40 million state program called Career Advance Colorado that’s intended to mint thousands of workers in shortage areas. Besides early childhood education, the program will cover tuition, course materials, and fees for up to two years of training for students studying education, construction, law enforcement, nursing, and fire and forestry.

“All these fields are in need of great folks to fill jobs that are open today and that are critical for our state’s success,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a recorded announcement about Career Advance.

The program is open to new students and those currently enrolled in one of the six target areas. For those already enrolled, the state will pay for their remaining coursework.

The offer of free training for prospective early childhood employees comes amid an ongoing shortage of child care and preschool teachers that’s led to shuttered classrooms at some centers. The need for qualified staff has become even more pressing as Colorado prepares to launch a major expansion of tuition-free preschool in August. More than 31,000 4-year-olds are expected to participate.

Career Advance is the latest effort by state policymakers to beef up the anemic pipeline of early childhood teachers. In recent years, the state used COVID stimulus money to pay for two introductory early childhood classes for hundreds of college students. It also offered scholarship and apprenticeship programs for students seeking early childhood credentials.

In Colorado, where the median preschool teacher wage is around $15.25 an hour, it’s hard to make a living in the early childhood field. The cost of college classes or student loan debt makes the barrier to entry even higher.

State officials and advocates recently have taken tentative steps towards addressing the field’s abysmal pay. As part of an effort to pay preschool teachers a living wage, the state pays a higher per-student rate in the new universal preschool program than it pays public schools for each K-12 student. In addition, the state recently unveiled a report recommending a series of statewide early childhood salary scales that would significantly boost pay. For example, the suggested rate would be at least $22 an hour for early childhood teachers in metro Denver and some mountain communities. The salary scales are not binding for preschool and child care providers, but show what workers in different regions would need to earn to make a living wage.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy

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  1. “five other high-demand careers”  Not every career is a teacher. I happen to watch Gov. Polis at the press conference when he was pitching this free education. He included the trades all blue collar, but respectable. His reasoning was Colorado needs people to work and there is just no one around to fill these jobs. Thus the state is willing will subsidize education to start to fill the shoes from this scarce labor we seem to have. No one around anymore? Really Gov. Have you looked out your front door down Colfax or Broadway? Do you see tents on every corner? Do you think maybe – just maybe this is or could be your labor you say we don’t have anymore? Gov. there is plenty of labor out there, But, I guess subsidizing the homeless with my tax money and send the message don’t bother having a job is fine, and your wonderful solution for that bunch of non-labor. This is nothing more but the same level of thinking Gov Gavin Newsome in Ca. has destroyed a once prosperous and healthy state with.

  2. It does make sense that a teacher should make more than somebody working in fast food. The only thing wrong with raising these minimum wages is that people tend to stick with a job that has no future as long as their wages keep rising due to an ever-rising minimum wage. It might be that some people will see this as a way to make a better future for themselves.

  3. These politicians having the inside trac to the taxpayers funded check book never give up. Some just tell bigger tales about their justification to spend. Our governor creating this great “Career Advance” makes it sound exclusive for college debt security of no debt into the future for a solid career. In the meantime, look what we’ve just seen on the latest Federal student debt forgiveness scheme by the Pres. Joe Biden to take care of consumer debt (buyer of an education product). And so, Joe was pushing the same idea, everybody likes their bills paid by somebody else’s money. But, the Supreme Court said no Joe you are not going forward with that intentional debt shifting to taxpayers because it’s unconstitutional. SCOTUS – “The Secretary’s comprehensive debt cancellation plan cannot fairly be called a waiver – it not only nullifies existing provisions, but augments and expands them dramatically,” Now, Gov. Polis recognizes and how politically valuable this popular free education giveaway was and is taking a second bite of that apple for himself. All this new opportunity you will have to buy votes from these new voters with that political mentality. Joe no doubt showed politicians like Gov. Polis how powerful free education largess is, no matter how it’s packaged.

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