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April 17, 2023

Legislation to Support Universal PreK Passes Committee

DENVER, CO – House Finance Committee today passed legislation 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, including vapes, to support Colorado’s early childhood learners instead of refunding nearly $24 million to the tobacco industry. 

“When Colorado voters approved Proposition EE in 2020, they overwhelmingly supported funding nicotine cessation programs, affordable housing, rural K-12 funding, and universal preschool,”said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “Universal preschool saves families money, supports our youngest learners and sets our students up for success. The revenue collected from the tax on nicotine products has come in higher than originally predicted, and our legislation will allow voters to confirm their commitment to see preschool provided to all children in the state. Putting these funds towards young Coloradans’ lifelong success is one of the smartest investments we can make in our state’s future.” 

“Beginning this fall, funds collected from the voter-approved Proposition EE will begin supporting voluntary, universal preschool and educating our youngest learners,” said Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver. “Our legislation asks voters if the state may keep all revenue collected from the special tax on nicotine and utilize these funds for universal preschool programs. Colorado voters clearly understand the need for free, universal preschool and the benefit that 15 hours of quality UPK programming will have for our youngest learners, and we now ask voters to continue to meet that need.”

HB23-1290 passed by a vote of 6 to 5 and helps Colorado rise to the challenge of providing early education to every child in the year before they are eligible for kindergarten. The demand for universal preschool is clear: 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, including vapes, to fund universal preschool in Colorado. 

In 2020 Colorado voters approved Proposition EE, which created new excise taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products and nicotine products to fund Colorado’s priorities - nicotine cessation programs, affordable housing, rural K-12 schools, and Universal Pre-K. The new tax rates will phase in over the next few fiscal years through 2027. When originally approved by voters with overwhelming support, it was estimated 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 the voters want the state to retain the full amount of nicotine sales tax revenue and put it toward universal preschool.

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