(The Center Square) - The Colorado Senate gave its final approval to a bill Thursday that will implement universal preschool across the state.
Once signed into law, House Bill 22-1295 will reorganize the newly-created Department of Early Childhood (DEC) to assume the duties and responsibilities for programs related to early childhood education from the state Human Services Department and Education Department.
"Establishing universal preschool in Colorado is one of the most impactful things we are doing this session," Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, one of the bill's sponsors, said in a statement. "Quality early childhood education is critical to a child's future success, and streamlining the process to increase availability and affordability is just as beneficial to the parents of young children."
Colorado lawmakers passed a bill last year that established the new Department of Early Childhood and formalize the work of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, a stakeholder group that was convened in 2017 to find way to expand early childhood education programs in the state. That bill not only established the new department, but also tasked the agency with improving educational outcomes and finding ways to help families access universal preschool programs.
The new preschool program will provide 10 hours of preschooling per week to children who are preparing to enter kindergarten. The legislation will also support hybrid educational delivery models such as remote learning for students who cannot attend in-person classes.
The department will be funded through taxes collected under Proposition EE, which Colorado voters approved in November 2020, according to the bill's most recent fiscal note. Prop EE raised taxes on cigarettes, tobacco, and nicotine products, and diverts 73 percent of the tax revenue to the state's Preschool Programs Cash Fund.
The bill will increase the state's expenditures by $380,141 in fiscal year 2022 and $167.2 million the next fiscal year, according to the fiscal note.
"Costs include relocating existing programs to the new DEC (no net change), increasing costs in the CDE and the DEC, decreasing the state share of school finance in FY 2023-24, and increasing state expenditures for the new universal preschool program," the fiscal note said.
HB22-1295, which passed the House of Representatives last month, will head back to the House for lawmakers to approve amendments that were made by the Senate.
The bill would then head to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis, who campaigned on expanding early childhood education programs. In 2019, the legislature passed a bill to spend $175 million on full-day kindergarten with Polis' support.
The Senate GOP did not immediately respond to The Center Square's request for comment.