Every child deserves opportunities. Every family deserves options.

Parents shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and giving their kids the opportunities they need to grow and thrive.

Access to quality early childhood education is vital for our families and our communities. It reduces healthcare costs, increases school achievement and results in a more educated and reliable workforce.

Unfortunately, early childhood education options in Eagle County are costly and limited. There aren’t nearly enough programs to serve all the kids and families who need them – and the options that do exist are too expensive for many families who struggle with the financial pressures of living and working in our mountain communities.

Colorado is the 7th most expensive state in America for childcare. The average cost of childcare for four-year-olds in Colorado is $9,619 annually, and $12,736 annually for infants – double the cost of a year of tuition & fees at one of our state colleges or universities.

Even more troubling: the cost of childcare in Eagle County is 53 percent higher than the median across all school districts in Colorado. This makes early childhood education programs cost-prohibitive for many of our mountain families, where the cost of living is the 7th highest in the state.

Currently, there are only 45 licensed child care options in Eagle County – far too few to serve the 4,300 children under the age of five living in our communities. Capacity for infant care is even more scarce (by 44 percent) than the limited options for 3 to 5 year-olds. As a result, waitlists for ECE programs run into the hundreds, which means many kids receive no early education at all prior to kindergarten.

Without reliable and affordable access to early childhood education options, parents tend to miss work, lowering household incomes and potentially leading to job loss. Some parents have no choice but to drop out of our workforce – or worse yet, move their families away from Eagle County – because they can’t afford the cost of early childhood education combined with the high cost of living here, or they simply can’t find ANY available childcare options because even the unlicensed programs are at capacity.

For parents who must work, and cannot afford to stay home with their children, their kids run the risk of being placed in unlicensed, potentially unsafe child care, or under the supervision of a family member. These scenarios are not geared toward providing the education and developmental learning support our children need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Lower-income families in Eagle County can receive child care assistance through federal programs like Head Start and state initiatives like Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), but these options serve only a small percentage of Eagle County kids. Meanwhile, many middle-income families earn too much to qualify for federal help, despite struggling to afford the high cost of living in our mountain communities.

Increasing the number of affordable, accessible early childhood education programs in our communities will help ensure that every child in Eagle County has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive; and it will alleviate stress on parents who are currently forced to choose between going to work and giving their kids the opportunities they need to succeed.