Universal Pre-K: A transformational opportunity for Colorado’s children and families

CO Prop EE

This November, Colorado is uniquely positioned to make an incredible investment in our youngest learners, their families and our economy.  Colorado voters have the chance to approve Proposition EE, which would raise the tax on tobacco products and, for the first time in Colorado, institute a tax on nicotine products. This additional revenue would help support kids and families.

How would it work? For the first two and a half years, the funds would help mitigate some of the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our state’s budget and our schools. Starting in 2023, Prop. EE would fund a first-in-the-nation approach to state preschool that’s both universal and targeted. All Colorado 4-year-olds would have access to 10 hours per week of preschool, free of charge. Additional programming would be available for low-income students and students at risk of entering kindergarten without being school ready.

The Importance of Early Ed

I was a kindergarten teacher prior to joining the Colorado Children’s Campaign and saw firsthand that preschool has a tremendously positive impact on students’ school readiness. It’s important to note, however, that school readiness is about much more than learning numbers, letter sounds and how to write your name.

Social-emotional skill development was critical to my students’ academic success. If a student didn’t have the tools and strategies to know how feel safe in class, they had a much harder time learning. Preschool offers students a chance to learn and practice self-regulation strategies, understand how to identify feelings in themselves and others, communicate about those feelings, and learn about how to be a good friend and community member.

Preschool is also an invaluable opportunity for early identification of students with developmental delays or disabilities, connecting them with the support services they need as soon as possible.

Equitable Access for Colorado’s Kids

Unfortunately, I was also reminded in my classroom that preschool enrollment varies widely, and access to preschool is tied to a student’s means, background or zip code. Research from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that low-income children and children of color access high-quality ECE programs at far lower rates than their white, affluent peers.

Additionally, a 2019 report from the Education Trust found that no state currently provides both high-access and high-quality preschool to Black and Latinx three and 4-year-olds. If Prop. EE is approved, Colorado would be the first in the nation offering preschool to all 4-year-olds while prioritizing the greatest investment in students and families with the most barriers to opportunity. A high-quality universal preschool program has been shown to close or nearly close achievement gaps between Black and Latinx students and their peers.

Simply put, Prop. EE would be transformational for Colorado’s youngest learners and families. We know that preschool outcomes are a major determinant of a child’s academic and career success. No child should have to face barriers to that success at any time, let alone before even entering kindergarten. Now is the time to invest in the future of our children, families and state. I strongly support Proposition EE and hope that Colorado voters will do the same.

Learn more about Prop. EE and how you can support it.

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Melissa Mares is the Early Childhood Policy Fellow at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role, she supports policy analysis, coalition development, community engagement and advocacy to advance the Children’s Campaign’s early childhood agenda.