By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – Pre-K isn’t something you often hear about in the news when it comes to education. It’s just as important, if not more important, than a K-12 curriculum. The state is paying more attention to its early education system, giving countless kids a brighter future.

Gov. Jared Polis helped unveil a bill which will create a state Department of Early Childhood Education in Colorado. It’s part of a voter-approved plan which includes a universal preschool program for all young Coloradans.

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“How affirming and exciting it is to see more than two thirds of Colorado voters come together to say, ‘You know what? Every kid should be able to go to preschool and get a strong start,’” said Polis.

State leaders say early education helps provide a foundation for a child’s life and can propel their academic and life outcomes. Gerie Grimes, President of Hope Center, says the state’s new Early Childhood Education Department is a step toward recognizing its importance.

“Universal Pre-K brings us more in line. It says that we are all part of the education of the child, from the start to the end,” said Grimes. “Every family, regardless of background, should have the opportunity to have their child in quality early childhood education.”

Currently the state is able to provide a few free preschool slots to families. The governor expects new taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products, under Prop EE, will create enough revenue to make preschool free for all families in 2023.

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“Elevating and streamlining our early childhood system is a top priority for our state, and we know that this is an investment that will not only set up our kids for success but pay dividends for years to come,” said Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg.

Under Proposition EE, the bill would:

Create the Colorado Department of Early Childhood with a mission to expand access to high-quality, voluntary, affordable early childhood opportunities, support parents in accessing programs & services, coordinate the availability of services, promote equitable delivery of resources, and unify the fragmented administration of early childhood services to reduce duplicative oversight and administrative burden on families, providers, and educators.

Initiate a community-informed process to unify early childhood services in the new department via engagement of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, existing agencies, and affected organizations and individuals. The plan must align funding sources, reduce duplicative oversight and regulation to promote administrative efficiency, ensure alignment with K-12 education and other existing departments, and create a plan for the transition of services and programs as appropriate.

Require a plan to implement voluntary universal preschool statewide in alignment with voter intent in Prop EE and ensure that the preschool program aligns existing and new funding, supports community-based and school-based preschool options, blends funds as appropriate, integrates with local systems including Early Childhood Councils, supports the needs of diverse learners, including those with special needs, and is evaluated for child and family outcomes.

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The bill was named after Anna Jo Garcia, who has worked for decades to expand early education opportunities in Colorado.

Tori Mason