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Colorado Advocates Get Tobacco-Tax-Funded Universal Preschool Closer to the Finish Line

In November, Coloradoans will vote on a tax increase that could pave the way for universal preschool in the state. If approved, the ballot measure will increase the tax on tobacco and institute a new tax on nicotine vaping products. The bill is estimated to generate roughly $250 million annually for preschool funding once fully implemented.

If passed, the tax increase will be phased in over six years. In the first two and a half years, the revenue generated will support the state’s recovery from COVID-19, including addressing budget cuts to education from the COVID pandemic, with a focus on rural schools and affordable housing. Starting in 2023, all but a portion of the revenue will be used to fund universal preschool for children in the year prior to kindergarten entry. The program will pay for at least 10 hours per week of voluntary, free preschool for every child in the state and provide funding on a sliding scale to offer additional hours to children from low-income families and children at risk of entering kindergarten facing barriers to school readiness.

“High quality early education has been repeatedly proven to improve overall academic, health, and social outcomes for students, and yet Colorado currently only has funding to serve one in four 4-year-olds. This new tax revenue would fund a first-in-the-nation approach to preschool that is both universal and targeted, setting up all Colorado kids and families for success.”

Bill Jaeger 
Vice President of Early Childhood and Policy Initiatives
Colorado Children’s Campaign

The specifics of the preschool program will be determined after passage, but it will be designed to meet standards of quality and equity. Requirements include high-quality kindergarten preparation programming; mixed delivery supporting both school-based and community based preschool options; alignment with existing early childhood systems and initiatives; opportunities for parent, family and community involvement; and investments in the expansion of preschool, such as recruitment, retention, and training for early childhood education professionals, facilities improvement, and parent and family outreach.

In addition to funding preschool, the new tax aims to combat Colorado’s highest-in-the-nation rate of youth vaping by both dramatically raising prices and investing part of the revenue in tobacco and nicotine education and prevention services.

Advocates for early childhood policy in Colorado, including our allies at Colorado Children’s Campaign, Clayton Early Learning, Council for a Strong America, and many others, were instrumental in getting this measure on the ballot and are already working hard to build awareness and support for the bill.

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