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Polis, state leaders unveil universal preschool plan

Polis, state leaders unveil universal preschool plan
Posted at 4:12 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 08:56:58-04

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis and other state leaders shared their plans Tuesday to make universal preschool a reality for Colorado families.

"We're creating a one-stop-shop for families to help navigate early childhood needs and find the childcare preschool that they need for their success and their kids' success," Polis said at a press conference.

House Bill 22-1295 was first introduced last week. It would create the Department of Early Childhood, which would oversee the state's universal preschool program. In 2020, Coloradans voted to fund the program using money from a nicotine tax.

"With today's rollout, we are full steam ahead in making universal preschool a reality for all Colorado families, not only preparing kids for academic and social success but saving families over $4,000 a year," Polis said.

The universal preschool program would provide 10 free hours of preschool for Colorado families per week and help streamline the process to access preschool, both private and public.

Diana Herrera, director of education and special education at Bal Swan Children's Center, is thankful providers like hers have been included in the conversation to make the program as effective as possible.

"The system as it is right now, it's complicated, it's disjointed, it's broken," she said. "We are really rooting for this new Department of Early Childhood to make it easier for us to provide the high-quality early childhood education that our children deserve."

Among the speakers was parent ambassador George Davis V. As a father of two, he has first-hand knowledge of the difference early childhood education can make. His daughter, Gianna, went to preschool at Clayton Early Learning, and his son, Julian, did not attend preschool.

"My son's a genius as well, but there was a difference watching him go through first grade and her starting kindergarten," he said. "There's a lot of growth that our children take on in those early stages that leaps and bounds later."

Polis says the state has some idea how many kids will likely be enrolled in the program, but a goal between now and then is making sure providers have enough staffing for them.

"Our efforts to seek and encourage more providers to enter this field won't stop at this bill but will continue with additional legislation this session," said Colorado Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver.

The bill's first committee hearing is this Thursday. If all goes according to plan, the 2023-2024 school year will be the first year of enrollment. You can read the bill's full text here.