On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law giving 4-year-old Colorado children access to 10 hours of preschool a week at no cost to families starting next fall.
The same bill established the Department of Early Childhood Education, which will oversee the preschool program along with other child development programs.
“It was a monumental day in Colorado's pursuit to have the best early childhood education in the country," said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “This really is going to go a long way in helping parents get back to work."
Garnett said the 10 hours of preschool at no cost will save families roughly $4,300 a year. He has three children and knows how expensive education can be.
“Having two kids in preschool was about $3,500 a month. It was more than our mortgage," Garnett said.
Elsa Holguin is the president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program, which is a sales tax funded initiative that provides tuition support for 4-year-olds in Denver.
“The preschool in Denver, in general, is about $14,000 a year," Holguin said. “Our tuition support in Denver funds 4,500 kids, which is about 60% of all the 4-year-olds in Denver receive tuition support from us.”
Holguin estimated around 40% of Colorado 4-year-olds are in preschool. With this new law, she anticipates in a few years seeing 75% of 4-year-olds attending preschool. She said those numbers will require more teachers in the classrooms.
“We're already in a shortage as it is with teachers and even substitutes. And so, it's going to be critical that we really work to make sure that we're able to recruit people into the teaching profession, pay them and treat them fairly, so that we can keep them in here so that we have enough teachers for our kids," said Kim Manning Ursetta, who has been a teacher for nearly three decades and currently teaches preschool.
Manning Ursetta has seen children leave her class as a result of the cost. She hopes to see full-time preschool available for every child in Colorado one.
“It's heartbreaking because the kids and parents are just crushed that they can no longer afford it, and it hurts us as teachers, as well, because we want to help our students," Manning Ursetta said.
Colorado voters passed a measure in 2020 increasing taxes on nicotine products, which will help fund the preschool program.