Strong Start in San Miguel County, CO, manages one of the nearly 50 voter-approved children’s funds nationwide dedicating local revenue to services specifically for children. Strong Start—and its coalition of community members, local business owners, nonprofits, and child care professionals—are at the center of improvements in early childhood care and education in the county. The fund focuses on four core areas:

  1. increasing the number of children receiving child care;
  2. recruiting, training, and retaining early childhood professionals;
  3. improving the quality of early childhood care and education programs and facilities; and
  4. providing need-based financial assistance to help families access affordable early childhood care and education.

San Miguel County—which has a population of about 8,000 people—established Strong Start in 2017 after 63.32% of voters approved increasing the local property tax and dedicating the new revenue to early childhood care and education. A .75 mill levy supports the fund. (The cost to homeowners amounts to approximately $5.40 in taxes annually for every $100,000 of assessed property value.) According to 2018 survey data by San Miguel County, the average sale price of homes in the county was approximately $1.5 million. In 2021, the levy generated $686,991 for Strong Start.

“None of our [child care] centers closed during COVID,” says Cathy Barber, Strong Start’s program coordinator. “All of our centers were able to keep their doors open. The [Strong Start] funding has been enormous.”

The tax revenue generated from the levy creates a continuous stream of income for the county that it can use to fund the long-term sustainability, growth, and development of early childhood care and education programs. For instance, in 2019 the fund provided

  • nearly $170,000 to improve the quality and sustain and increase the capacity of the county’s 10 child care centers;
  • salary supplements to approximately 30 teachers to support teacher retention;
  • scholarships to five teachers to pursue continuing education, training, and professional development; and
  • nearly $160,000 in need-based financial aid to help 51 families pay for child care in the county.

Strong Start also sponsored free classes for early childhood educators to support their ongoing professional learning and to help them meet state licensing standards.

“We know that the capacity-building money has been successful because none of the [child care] programs have closed and we have been able to track that schools have been able to increase benefits they are giving to their teachers, increase wages they are giving to their teachers,” says Barber. “We are able to keep the doors open at this point to connect as many people as possible with child care.”

Rob Omondi, student at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, contributed to this profile.