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April 21, 2023

House Advances Support for Universal PreK

DENVER, CO – The House today passed legislation on a preliminary vote to support and maintain Colorado’s Universal Preschool (UPK) program. HB23-1290, sponsored by Speaker Julie McCluskie and Representative Emily Sirota, would refer a measure to the ballot to allow the state to direct all the revenue collected under a sales tax on tobacco and other tobacco products to support Colorado’s early childhood learners instead of refunding nearly $24 million to the tobacco industry. 

“The support for voter-approved universal preschool has been overwhelming because it will save families money, help parents get back to work, and boost learning opportunities for our youngest Coloradans,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “Supporting young learners sets them up for a lifetime of success, and funding universal preschool is one of the smartest investments we can make. The revenue collected from the tax on nicotine products has come in higher than originally predicted, and we want to confirm voters’ commitment to using these funds to provide preschool to all children in the state. That’s precisely what this legislation accomplishes.”

“Universal preschool will be here in the fall, and the funds collected from the voter-approved Proposition EE made it possible for the state to begin to provide free, early childhood education to our youngest learners,” said Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver. “Colorado voters widely support free universal preschool, and our legislation reaffirms that commitment by asking them if the state may keep revenue collected from the special tax on nicotine and direct it toward UPK, rather than returning it to the tobacco industry. Studies show that preschool and early childhood education prepare kids for a lifetime of educational success.” 

HB23-1290 helps Colorado rise to the challenge of providing early education to every child in Colorado the year before they are eligible for kindergarten. The demand for universal preschool is high: more than 29,000 families and over 1,800 early care and education providers have already signed up to participate in the first year of Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program. 

Specifically, this bill would refer a measure to the ballot that asks voters to approve of the state keeping the excess revenue collected on tobacco and other tobacco products to fund universal preschool in Colorado. 

In 2020 Colorado voters approved Proposition EE, which created new excise taxes on cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products to fund Colorado’s priorities - nicotine cessation programs, affordable housing, rural K-12 public schools, and Universal Pre-K. The new tax rates are designed to phase in over the next few fiscal years through 2027. When originally approved by voters with overwhelming support, it was estimated that this measure would raise $186.5 million in new tax revenue in the first year (FY 2021-22). However, actual revenues from the new tobacco taxes exceeded that predicted amount by $22 million. 

If passed, voters will see a measure on their 2024 ballots confirming the original intent of the voter-approved Proposition EE and clarifying that voters want the state to retain the full amount of nicotine sales tax revenue to put toward universal preschool.

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