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Polis, education leaders tout universal pre-k program ahead of legislative debate

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Governor Jared Polis speaks in front of the Colorado State Capitol March 15, 2022, introducing the state's plans for the Department of Early Childhood and the universal preschool program.
Governor Jared Polis, joined by preschoolers, speaks in front of the Colorado State Capitol March 15, 2022. He and other lawmakers introduced the state's plans for the Department of Early Childhood and the universal preschool program, which voters approved in the 2020 election.

DENVER — Colorado Governor Jared Polis stood with legislators, parents and community leaders at the State Capitol March 15 to highlight the state’s progress delivering on its universal preschool program for children across Colorado.

The program will provide at least 10 hours of free preschool per week for Colorado four year olds starting in 2023.

“We promised universal preschool, and today, in partnership with legislative leaders and strong early childhood community support, we are delivering on that promise, saving families money, and helping to ensure Colorado’s kids, families, and parents can thrive,” Polis said.

In 2020, Coloradans voted to approve Proposition EE, a ballot initiative that sought to increase taxes on nicotine products and use the generated revenue towards various health and education programs, including preschool funding.

Support for Proposition EE was overwhelming; nearly 70% of voters approved of it. However, some critics decried it as a “sin tax” and progressive groups like the Working Families Party of Colorado said the tax would disproportionately affect working class people who are more likely to be targeted by tobacco companies.

Following the vote, legislators passed a bill establishing the Department of Early Childhood, which will oversee the universal preschool program.

Now, Democratic lawmakers Speaker Alec Garnett, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, Rep. Emily Sirota and Sen. Janet Buckner have co-sponsored HB22-1295, a bill that outlines the duties of the Department of Early Childhood, relocates early childhood programs from the Departments of Human Services and Education and creates the Colorado Universal Preschool Program. HB22-1295 will be considered by the state’s Education Committee Thursday, March 17.

“Colorado families are going to save thousands of dollars per year with 10 hours of free high-quality preschool for all four year olds that will prepare our youngest learners for success,” Garnett said. “We’ve brought together everyone in the education community to design a one-stop-shop that will break down barriers and streamline access to early childhood education.”

Colorado preschoolers were in attendance at Tuesday's event at the Capitol.

Anna Jo Haynes, founder and president emeritus of Mile High Early Learning, is thrilled by the progress being made around early childhood education and care in Colorado.

“I just have to pinch myself all the time,” Haynes said.

Haynes has spent over 50 years spearheading programs and policies that seek to improve early childhood care and education. While she anticipates that there might be some resistance to the changes in Colorado, Haynes believes that a majority of the community will be supportive. 

“The only person who likes change is a baby with a diaper,” she added.

As Chalkbeat Colorado recently reported, some educators are concerned about the scope and speed of changes underway as the state moves forward with the plan for universal preschool.

“I love the idea of universal preschool,” Angela Fedler told Chalkbeat. She leads several early childhood programs for the Delta County School District. “I believe in the idea of universal preschool. I do have some fears around it as well.”

[Related: Colorado is reshaping early childhood. Some school districts are nervous.]

However, Haynes expressed pride in the collaboration between legislators, community leaders, parents and educators. She also emphasized how, over time, parents began to feel more heard and part of the conversation around early childhood education and care in Colorado.

Speaking at the Capitol, Anna Jo Haynes puts on a hat with an embroidered message: Is it good for the children?

“There’s not very much trust in the times we’re living in right now,” Haynes told Rocky Mountain PBS. “And to get people to be trusting of the fact that — you are not gonna just hear me, you’re gonna write it down, and that’s gonna be part of what happens — I think that’s just exciting.”

To read the full text of HB22-1295, which is nearly 500 pages long, click here.

Theresa Ho is the RMPBS Kids digital content producer. You can reach her at

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