Early Care and Education (ECE)

Colorado Says Yes to Universal Preschool

Earlier this year the David and Laura Merage Foundation launched #CareForAllChildren to shine a light on the childcare affordability crisis and help parents see that it is not their personal financial failing. Childcare, which is essentially the start of a child’s education, is a public good and as such we— employers, policy makers, and taxpayers—all benefit when children have access to quality care. Yet, as long as childcareremains a private responsibility, we will never build a truly equitable system. There were some significant early care and education bright spots across the nation on election day last week, yet none brighter than Colorado’s universal preschool initiative.

Over two thirds of Colorado voters said “yes” to Proposition EE, a tobacco and e-cigarette tax that will generate over $2 billion in the first decade to support universal preschool for all four-year olds. Colorado will join Vermont and Florida as the third state to offer truly universal preschool- not capped by income or enrollment numbers- and they will be the first state to design a truly mixed-delivery implementation model where these new funds will be layered with other dollars to support the level and location of services that match a family’s early care and education needs.

National polls have signaled strong bipartisan voter support for a greater investment in early care and education and now this has been validated at the ballot box. Prop EE passed with over a 1 million approval margin, the largest victory of any statewide tax, and only the 4th tax measure to be approved since TABOR was enacted over 20 years ago. It passed in 46 of 64 counties, and importantly President Trump won 20 plus of these counties, so clearly the support for EE was truly bi-partisan.

It would be remiss to celebrate the success of Prop EE without giving credit to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who puts Early Childhood Education at the top of his policy priorities. He boldly envisioned the publicly funded, universal preschool program, and worked closely with community leaders and early childhood champions like David Merage to launch the ballot initiative campaign. While it is rare to have such a powerful faction of early childhood advocates, Prop EE can and should be replicated across the country.

This is the time for other states to build on Colorado’s success with Prop EE and tap the will of their voters to end decades of underinvestment in our youngest learners. Childcare, unlike K-12, has always been an unstable and underperforming market, and this pandemic has laid bare the absurdity of relying solely on parents to maintain this essential infrastructure. Mixed-delivery universal preschool will reduce parents’ financial burden, build the supply of quality early care and education programs, and ensure far more children get a fair start.