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Early Childhood Milestone Celebrated on Anniversary of Proposition EE Passage, establishing Universal Preschool Program by 2023

On Wednesday, Nov. 3, Governor Jared Polis hosted a public event to celebrate key milestones in the state’s effort to reimagine early childhood care and education for young children and their families. He announced the transition plan for the new, unified Department of Early Childhood (DEC) is pending final approval, and the process to develop the voter-approved, universal preschool program is now underway.

Three-year-old Olivia Hall attended the early childhood program set up at the former Poncha Springs Townhall. Early childhood care providers are an urgent need in Chaffee County. AVV file photo.

“On this day last year, Coloradans voted for free preschool for every child, an investment in early childhood care and education that supports families and child development,” said Polis. “This new plan is a key step to make this a reality as we prepare for voter-approved funding for all four-year-olds in fall of 2023. I’m excited that with today’s news we can continue to build on Colorado’s longstanding commitment to children and families.”

The announcement comes just two days after Governor Polis unveiled his FY 2022-23 balanced budget proposal, which makes historic investments in K-12, early childhood, and higher education. In his budget, Governor Polis outlined an initial investment of $13 million, of which $5.1 million is General Fund, as a direct result of significant stakeholder work to position the DEC for success this year and beyond.

“The transition plan for the new Department of Early Childhood (DEC) marks an important step forward for families who want access to high-quality early childhood programs and services—not just those who can afford it,” said Senator Janet Buckner. “Colorado will soon be able to be positioned to support more children and families than ever before, and it will be able to do so equitably. Equity is at the heart of our plan for the future.”

“As a parent and former early childhood provider, I know how difficult the early childhood system is to navigate,” said Rep. Emily Sirota. “Today, one year after the passage of Proposition EE, we are taking steps in the right direction to maximize our dollars and make sure we are being responsive to children and families. I want to thank all of the parents, providers, researchers, advocates, and other stakeholders that provided feedback on this critical plan.”

New, Unified Department of Early Childhood

As required by HB21-1304, Colorado is creating a new state department that will align and strengthen the state’s early childhood system. Following months of public planning, engagement, and feedback, a plan outlining recommendations for the DEC is now complete and pending final approval by the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC).

The ECLC will next meet on Nov.10, and an endorsement is expected no later than Nov.15. Access the Department of Early Childhood Transition Plan.

The DEC will help families more easily and equitably access early childhood services; support the early childhood workforce; position the universal preschool program to increase services for low-income children and simultaneously expand access to all children before they enter kindergarten; place an early childhood champion in the Governor’s Cabinet; align efforts and funding to improve quality early care and education; and define what high-quality, age-appropriate early care and education look like for teachers and children.

Voters Approved Prop EE Voluntary, Universal Preschool One Year Ago

The old Poncha Springs Town Hall was turned into an infant to age three early childhood center. Photo courtesy of Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition EE, a ballot initiative to increase the state tax on tobacco, establish a nicotine products tax, and direct some of the funding to a voluntary universal preschool program. With a year of funding beneath it, the DEC will open its doors July 1, 2022, and begin the process of transitioning programs to its oversight.

The universal preschool program is voluntary.  Under the program, by July 2023, all Colorado families, regardless of income, will have the opportunity to access 10 hours of high-quality early care and education per week, per child, in a mixed delivery system, in the year prior to the child entering kindergarten.

The Chaffee County Early Childhood Council ( CCECC) has been preparing for this next step for months. Focused on prenatal through age eight children, it works with the community to assess local early childhood needs, identify proven solutions, and access the resources required to embed these solutions into the ongoing work of community partners.

New CCECC Executive Director Sarah Romack says that the state is still finalizing their plans for the transition. “It’s been a long process, meetings with all kinds of state stakeholders, and it’s still a little unclear how this will affect our community. But I think having a unified department is going to really help the work move forward.”

Romack added that at the moment, the urgent Chaffee County need is for new child care providers. One of the latest childcare facilities to launch here was the infant to age three facility in the old Poncha Springs Town Hall.

“We’re trying to recruit child care providers right now. There is an urgent need in this county. Those interested should go to our website for more information,” she added.

ECLC is tasked with developing a set of recommendations to guide the initial development and implementation of the preschool program. A report to provide DEC with a set of recommendations and guidance related to the program is expected to be released on Jan. 1, 2022. Stakeholder feedback will be critical to the success of the program. All engagement opportunities, including a calendar of public planning meetings, will be posted to the ECLC website.