We find ourselves in uncertain times, but this November, Coloradans will have the opportunity to take a concrete step forward in support of health and education.
By voting yes on Proposition EE, we can choose to boost community health, particularly for our teens, protect our public schools from the worst of the budget cuts facing them and make sure that every working family in our state has the opportunity to choose the best start for their child by sending them to preschool.
This measure closes a loophole by imposing a first-ever tax on nicotine vape products in Colorado as well as increasing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, which are currently taxed at some of the lowest rates in the nation.
This is, quite simply, proven public health policy well understood to help lower smoking and vaping rates. A tax increase is particularly effective in lowering teen smoking and vaping rates.
If you have watched the news in the last year, you know Colorado has one of the highest teen vaping rates in the country with 29% of teens saying they vape regularly. We have a genuine opportunity to tackle what is an epidemic among our youth.
But how the money generated by the measure is spent is equally critical to the future of our state. That’s because this initiative, alongside committing $110 million in new dollars to tobacco and vape cessation and education programs over 10 years, invests deeply in education where the investment will do the most good.
First, the measure would dedicate $375 million to helping shore up K-12 school budgets decimated by the global pandemic over the next 2.5 years. Of this funding, $90 million would go to rural schools, who often suffer the worst impacts of budget cuts and have the hardest time recovering from them. This initial investment is critical given that public schools are facing at least an additional $500 million in cuts if nothing is done.
Following that, the measure would fund universal preschool for every 4-year-old in the state beginning in 2023 — a goal shared by people across the political spectrum who understand its value to each child and their families.
Decades of research tell us that access to quality early childhood education, particularly for kids from lower income communities or with other risk factors, is one of the single best predictors of school success.
Kids who have access to preschool are less likely to have a significant reading deficiency in kindergarten, half as likely to be held back by third grade, and more likely to graduate on time.
Right now, Colorado has some of the lowest per child funding in the nation for preschool, creating a situation where one in four Colorado 4-year-olds actually got to preschool before they start kindergarten.
That means thousands of working families can’t afford to give their children the start they deserve and struggle for quality child care, hurting their ability to work and limiting their economic future.
More than 150 organizations and elected officials from across the state and representing public health groups, early childhood and education advocates and the business community have signed on to see Prop EE passed because they know this is our best chance to address critical goals for our state.
In our COVID-19 world, with budgets at the city, county and state level strapped, we have the chance to create new dollars to invest in public schools and preschool. And the policy change itself can do good in addressing the teen vaping problem and increased public health in general.
Across the board, Proposition EE is an investment in our future and one we’re lucky to get to make in this difficult time.
Jake Williams is the executive director of Healthier Colorado. Bill Jaeger is the vice president of early childhood and policy initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
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