(The Center Square) - Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill Monday to implement a statewide universal preschool program.
House Bill 22-1295 outlines the operations of the newly-created Department of Early Childhood (DEC), which will oversee the universal preschool program. It also provides guidance to local governments to help them connect students and families to the program.
"Today, we're taking another bold step forward in ensuring Colorado kids have access to free universal preschool," Polis said at the bill signing event. "There's no better investment than education which leads to a stronger, healthier and competitive workforce."
HB 22-1295 builds on legislation that was passed last year that established a unified early childhood education system in Colorado. It also created a working group that established the scope, mission, and framework of the new DEC.
The DEC 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% of the tax revenue to the state's Preschool Programs Cash Fund.
The bill was signed as many Colorado parents continue to struggle with rising inflation and the cost of child care. According to data from Child Care Aware, a national nonprofit, the average cost of child care in Colorado is nearly $12,000 per year, which represents more than 34% of a single parent's average income in the state.
Polis said the new bill is the result of more than 130 meetings between stakeholders, lawmakers, and community groups. The governor also estimated that it will save families approximately $4,300 per year on education costs.
"Decades of research has shown us that greater access to early childhood education leads to better outcomes for children all the way into adulthood," said Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, one of the bill sponsors. "Parents across our state spend too many hours trying to find a preschool option for their child."