Gov. Jared Polis signs HB22-1295 into law at the Clayton Early Learning Campus in Denver on April 25, 2022. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
Gov. Jared Polis signed legislation on Monday that will establish a universal preschool program in Colorado and set up the Department of Early Childhood.
“The work is statewide to make Colorado a model for the rest of the country, a model for the positive development of kids and preparation for success, reducing the achievement gap before it even exists,” Polis said during the signing ceremony at the Clayton Early Learning campus, a jubilant event he entered alongside a local drum line and parade of preschool-aged children.
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The newly-signed House Bill 22-1295 creates a no-cost preschool program that will begin in fall 2023. It also establishes the responsibility of a new department that will absorb the work of most existing early childhood programs scattered across different state entities. For example, the department will take over the Child Care Assistance Program from the Department of Human Services.
The Department of Early Childhood will select a local coordinating organization for each community that will then be in charge of helping families apply for programs and recruiting preschools to the provider network. Children will be eligible for 10 hours of preschool per week the year before they start kindergarten.
“Not only are we saving families money, but we are also saving families time with this one-stop shop not only to access universal pre-K but all of the early childhood programs our state has to offer to ensure that our children are not just growing, but thriving,” Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, said.
HB22-1295 passed on a vote of 24 to 11 in the Senate and on a vote of 43 to 19 in the House, enjoying mostly Democratic support. It was sponsored by Sirota, House Speaker Alec Garnett of Denver, Sen. Janet Buckner of Aurora and Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder.
“Success for Colorado starts with support for the youngest Coloradans in our state,” Fenberg said. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic and folks continue to return to work, we need to be able to provide parents with child care opportunities that are easy to navigate and won’t break the bank.”
The state-funded program will save families an annual average of $4,300, according to the governor’s office.
Fenberg said this implementation, the culmination of years of work by early education advocates, could be “one of the most impactful things” to come out of this year’s legislative session as it benefits children for generations to come.
Polis applauded the “single point of entry” that the law creates for families looking for early childhood programs through the new department.
“It really streamlines the entire early childhood system for every family. Instead of having different forms and days of red tape and confusion, it’s going to make it simple for families,” he said.
“For other families, there are different funding streams they may be eligible for on top of that for additional hours, but we all get to go through the same front door. I think that makes a powerful statement about equity, as well as about convenience.”
Some Republican critics worry about the program’s sustainability, as it will be funded through nicotine and tobacco sales tax revenue, and the Legislature is still debating a flavored nicotine ban that could potentially cut that revenue.
The preschool program will be fully operational in time for the 2023-2024 school year.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 1:55 p.m. May 12, 2022, to correct the Senate vote record.
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