By Jeanne McQueeney and Leslie Nichols
In a state beset by pandemic budget cuts, this election we have a chance to protect our public health and public schools and make a significant investment in Colorado’s kids by creating access to universal preschool.
A measure appearing on this November’s ballot, Proposition EE, would allow voters to support our public schools and fund universal preschool for all Colorado 4-year-olds by instituting a first-ever tax on vaping products and boosting taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. With no end in sight to the pandemic, and budget cuts looming at the local and state levels, it’s a chance for investment we can’t afford to pass up.
Our public schools are facing a half a billion dollars in cuts. This measure would help to fill that funding gap by providing $375 million in new revenue. Of that money for schools, $90 million is set aside for rural schools, who are hit hardest by state cuts and have the least ability to recover from them. This money would stave off the worst of the impacts to our schools and students while our economy has a chance to recover.
Next, the measure would make one of the smartest investments in our future, and help working families, by funding universal preschool for every 4-year-old in the state. Over 10 years, the measure would generate more than $2 billion to ensure that no family is forced to skip preschool for their child due to cost.
Decades of research prove that kids who have access to preschool before kindergarten have higher reading achievement in kindergarten, are less likely to be held back in kindergarten through third grade and are more likely to graduate on time. These positive impacts are greatest for kids with other risk factors like poverty or learning challenges.
Unfortunately, Colorado has some of the lowest funding for preschool in the nation, so currently only about 40% of the children who qualify for the Colorado Preschool Program due to income or other learning issues are actually served by the program. The investment made through this initiative would ensure that every working family can make the choice to send their child to preschool and give them the best possible start in life.
Proposition EE would pay for these critical investments by adding a first-ever tax on vaping products in our state as well as boosting taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Colorado currently has no tax on vaping products and some of the lowest taxes in the nation on tobacco products. This change would not only allow us to invest in education, but it would make a meaningful change in community health across our state, particularly for our teens.
You might have read that Colorado has one of the highest teen vaping rates in the country, with 29% of teens saying they vape regularly. We know that increasing the price of cigarettes and vaping products drives down use, particularly for teens who are most price sensitive. Clear research in the tobacco arena shows us that for every 10% we boost the price of cigarettes, there is a corresponding 5% drop in use overall and a 7% drop among teens.
To drive use rates even lower, the measure will provide $110 million in new dollars for smoking and vaping cessation and education programs.
We find ourselves in an unprecedented time. We can respond to that by taking advantage of an initiative that helps us move our state forward. That’s why more than 100 organizations and elected officials are supporting Prop EE.
Jeanne McQueeney serves on Colorado’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission and is an Eagle County commissioner. Leslie Nichols serves on the board of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, on Gov. Jared Polis’ Preschool Policy Leadership Committee and is superintendent of Gunnison Watershed School District. Both Jeanne and Leslie are speaking on behalf of themselves.