In a historic move, one state just made universal preschool free, regardless of where parents choose to send their kids.
It might be hard to believe, but universal preschool is still a relatively new idea for many states. In fact, most states still don’t even offer free state-wide programs for our youngest learners. But still, the notion is gaining traction, and even the Biden Administration is getting in on the bid. One more state just joined the universal preschool club, and the decision is hailed as a historic act in public education.
In Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law on April 25th that establishes a new state department overseeing early childhood development programs, but most importantly, making preschool free for all residents. The universal preschool initiative will establish 10 hours a week of free preschool for children, with some qualifying families being able to receive additional hours.
Because of timing issues, the program won’t start this coming fall, but will instead roll out in the fall of 2023. According to The Denver Post, the universal preschool act will save families an average of $4,300 a year. What really sets this new law apart from others is the variety of choices it gives families. While many states limit such programs to those who choose a state-run program, Colorado will pay for children who attend private, church-run organizations, and even home care. It’s a big win for parents struggling to pay for child care in the Centennial State, where providers are not only hard to find but also extremely expensive.
According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, Colorado is the 8th most expensive state in the U.S. for child care. The average cost to place a four-year-old in programs costs families $12,390 a year, or $1,032 each month. The new law’s backers are excited that the universal preschool initiative will help thousands of families, but those who were opposed to the legislation in congress feel differently about it.
The lengthy 562-page bill passed both chambers with very little support from state republicans. Those against the legislation said that the creation of a new department would cause more problems than answers. Similarly, they feared the program will be unable to raise enough funds to offer free universal preschool.
Supporters of the initiative point to a law passed in 2020 that increased nicotine taxes in the state. Part of the reason to enact the higher tax rate was to use the funds to aid the universal preschool program. Lawmakers are estimating that the increased revenue from the nicotine tax will bring in about $275 million in additional revenue by 2027.
Other than Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wisconsin offer similar free universal preschool programs. According to Chalkbeat reports, each state boasts at least 70% statewide participation. But still, advocates state that these initiatives aren’t met without issues. Vermont’s chief program officer from Let’s Grow Kids, Sherry Carlson, told Chalkbeat that the system is “not perfect [but] usage is an indication that we’re on the right track.”
Other than rolling out the free universal preschool program, the state hopes that injecting a new department to aid parents will further mitigate any problems that may arise. Critics are wary to see how this will affect the state’s budget, but regardless of concerns, it is a done deal. And with the ever-increasing cost of early childcare becoming a major problem for families across America, other states might soon follow suit.