Bills aim to help kids

Programs would be united in early childhood office

DENVER – Colorado can do a better job of helping parents get their kids ready for their first years in school, said legislators who plan to introduce a bill to reorganize the state’s early childhood services.

Separately, advocates are drafting another bill to make sure children know how to read before they advance to fourth grade.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration promoted the first bill Friday morning at a meeting with legislators. Sponsors plan to introduce both bills near the end of the month.

“Early literacy, we know, is key to long-term educational success,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. “It begins at birth.”

Garcia spent much of the last year working on early education, and his office had been floating an idea to require kids to repeat third grade if they don’t know how to read. But legislators are drafting a bill that would stop short of imposing a statewide literacy standard on third-graders.

Instead, the bill will call for teachers, parents and administrators to draft individual literacy plans for students who fall behind and to consider keeping them in third grade until they can read well.

The bill that was revealed Friday will focus on the state’s scattershot approach to childhood services.

Dozens of programs to aid parents are spread across many agencies. The bill would consolidate them under one new early childhood office in the Department of Human Services.

The new office should make it easier for parents to apply for everything from the Nurse Home Visitor program to early childhood mental health treatment to nutrition programs, said Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Department of Human Services.

“This proposal will not ask for one additional dollar,” Bicha said.

The overall goal is to help parents get their kids ready for school.

Parents want to know if their children are developing on track, said Jennifer Stedron, executive director of the state’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission.

“What is important is that as a state we do have a shared understanding of what children know and should be able to do all the way through starting kindergarten and beyond,” Stedron said.

Commission members said they will look for ways to get more parents talking and thinking about early education.

But the job ultimately falls to parents, Bicha said.

“Government doesn’t raise children. Families raise children,” he said.

Even so, legislators will have to overcome the skepticism of a few of their colleagues, including Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

“What I see is a system of professional replacement of the family rather than support of the family,” said Lundberg, who is running for Congress in the new Boulder-Fort Collins district.

Other legislators offered support and advice. Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, said it’s important for parents to talk a lot to their very young children, even if it seems like babies don’t understand.

“Kids are like sponges. They absorb everything that they see,” said Joshi, a former physician. “That’s why the family’s role becomes extremely important.”

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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