Policy Strategies & Innovations Link copied!

Innovation Name Innovation Type Innovation Subtype Features at a Glance Strategy Summary
Colorado Universal Preschool Program Expansion Universal Pre-K Policy (4-Year-Olds)

In 2023, Colorado launched its Universal Preschool Program to provide free, high-quality preschool education to all four-year-olds in the state, with special provisions for three-year-olds from low-income families or those who meet other qualifying criteria. Overseen by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC), the program uses a streamlined enrollment process to make quality preschool more accessible. It also includes a family matching system, which lets parents choose from a range of licensed preschool providers, including school-based, community-based, and home-based options. Licensed preschool providers can participate in the program by agreeing to uphold its quality standards.

Learn More: Colorado Universal Preschool program




Denver Preschool Program (DPP) Expansion Targeted Pre-K Policy (3-Year-Olds) Targeted Pre-K Policy (4-Year-Olds)

Creation of program that offers tuition credits to four-year-olds

In 2006, the Denver Preschool Program  (DPP) was funded through a 0.12% sales tax approved by voters in Ballot Question 1A; this was increased to 0.15% in 2014 when voters reauthorized and extended the program to 2026. The DPP offers tuition credits to all four-year-old children in the city. In addition to tuition assistance, the DPP also provides grants for professional development for early childhood educators. The program—which resulted from extensive lobbying and collaboration with businesses, parents, and educators in The Preschool Matters campaign and in the government-led Invest In Success initiative—has made a significant investment in early childhood education in Denver. To date, it has provided over $168 million in tuition support and over $25 million in professional development and has benefited more than 68,000 students, covering around 60% of Denver's four-year-olds.

Learn More: Denver Preschool Program (DPP)




Colorado Proposition EE Dedicated Funding Streams Nicotine Tax

Tax is expected to generate up to $275.9 million in funding for universal pre-K during the 2027-28 budget year

In 2020, Colorado voters approved Proposition EE, which more than tripled state taxes on cigarettes, tobacco, and vaping products, and established a dedicated funding stream for the state's universal pre-K program. Proposition EE generated $208 million in tax revenue in fiscal year 2021-22, about $22 million more than was estimated.

In 2023, a follow up proposition, Proposition II, was approved to allow the state to retain and use the $23 million excess revenue from increased and new taxes established by Proposition EE, instead of refunding it to distributors and wholesalers. In addition, Proposition II maintains the same tax rates as Proposition EE.

Learn More/Source: Proposition EE, Nicotine Tax Measure for Universal Preschool, Cruises to Victory
Teacher Salary Increase Pilot Program Workforce Pay Increases

Increase early childhood educator compensation by $1,000-$1,200 annually

In 2022, the Colorado Department of Early Childhood invested $3 million of Child Care Development Fund funds to conduct a pilot program to increase wages for educators serving children from birth to age five. Approximately 30% of child care programs that apply will be randomly selected to receive funding via a lottery process. This funding will increase educator pay by $1,000 to $1,200 annually. Programs that receive funding must meet the following criteria:

- 40% of children enrolled in the program receive Colorado Child Care Assistance Program subsidies

- The program holds a Colorado Shines Rating of Level 3 to 5

The success of this pilot program will be measured in terms of its impact on early educator recruitment, retention, and economic well-being. Family child care providers will be eligible for a different pilot program designed for home-based settings, which will launch at a later date.

Learn More: Colorado Early Childhood Teacher Salary Increase Pilot


Colorado Department of Early Childhood. (2022).Colorado Early Childhood Teacher Salary Increase Pilot.

Colorado Department of Early Childhood Infrastructure Systems Administrative + Governance Models

Created a new department of early childhood

In 2019, Jared Polis was elected governor of Colorado; his first term in office saw the passage of several significant pieces of early childhood legislation, including the creation of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood. This new agency combined all early childhood programs previously housed in the departments of Human Services and Education. The Department Early Childhood and Universal Preschool Program (HB22-1295) bill created the new Department of Early Childhood responsible for implementing the state’s universal preschool program and included $13 million or key administrative functions.

High-level political leadership and a cabinet-level position paired with authority and commitment from the executive and the legislature can elevate and strengthen early childhood outcomes across the state or city. While the creation of a new department will not automatically create better outcomes for children, it can provide the structure and coordination needed to improve early education quality and accessibility across a state or city (Kagan, 2015).

Learn More: Early Childhood System | Colorado General Assembly

Department Early Childhood And Universal Preschool Program | Colorado General Assembly
Early Childhood Leadership Commission (n.d.). Statewide Listening Tour.
Bipartisan Policy Center (2023). Integrated Efficient Early Care and Education Systems
Connors-Tadros, L., Northey, K., Frede, E., Hodges, K. & Jost, T. (2021). Effective State Offices of Early Learning: Structural Features, Enabling Conditions, and Key Functions in Four States. Research Report. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.
Kagan, L. and Gomez, R. (Eds.). (2015) Early Childhood Governance: Choices and Consequences. Teachers College Press.

Child Care Development Specialist Apprenticeship Program Workforce Apprenticeships

Part of Federal Registered Apprenticeship Program

In July 2020, Colorado passed HB 20-1053 to improve career and educational pathways for early childhood educators, including an apprenticeship program, the Child Care Development Specialist Federally Registered Apprenticeship Program, funded by approximately $5 million in federal stimulus money through September 2024 and administered through Red Rocks Community College. It is expected to address the workforce shortage in early childhood programs. Apprentices can earn an associate or bachelor’s degree and train to qualify as a child care center director. The program requires a 2-year commitment, and applicants must be at least 16 years old and either currently employed or willing to work full time in an early childhood program. The program requires 306 education hours and 4,000 hours of on-the-job learning with a mentor teacher. This program is the only federally registered apprenticeship for early childhood education in Colorado.

Learn More: Red Rocks Community College


Red Rocks Community College. (n.d.). Child Care Development Specialist Apprenticeship Program.

Red Rocks Community College. (2018). Child Care Development Specialist.

Brundin, J. (2021). Apprenticeships Aren’t Just For The Trades. It’s Also A Way To Bolster Colorado’s Early Childhood Workforce. Colorado Public Radio.

Ellison, G. (2022). Colorado promotes apprenticeships for early childhood educators. Broomfield Leader.

Sales and Use Tax for Denver Preschool Program Dedicated Funding Streams Sales Tax

80% of funds generated by the 0.15% sales and use tax are allocated to families in the form of tuition credits

First in 2006, and then again in a 2014 reauthorization that extends through 2026, voters approved an allocation of 0.15 percent of sales and use taxes for the Denver Preschool Program (DPP). About 80% of the DPP funds go to families in the form of tuition credits.

Learn More/source: Denver Preschool Program
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Demographics Link copied!

Demographics Data Scorecard

State population

5,839,926 Source U.S. Census, 2022

Rural %

14.0% Source U.S. Census, 2020

Urban %

86.0% Source U.S. Census, 2020

Number of children 0–4

313,160 Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Poverty levels - children 0—8 below 200% poverty

30% Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Median family income among households with children

$102,300.00 Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Unemployment rate

3.3% Source

Unemployment rate of parents

5% Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Children under age 6 with all available parents in the labor force

65% Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Children living in households with a high housing cost burden

30% Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Child Population by Race and Ethnicity Source KIDS COUNT, 2021

Race and Ethnicity

  • American Indian and Alaska Native (1%)
  • Asian (3%)
  • Black or African American (4%)
  • Hispanic or Latino (32%)
  • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander (.5%)
  • Two or more races (5%)
  • White, not Hispanic or Latino (55%)
Year 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019
Governor D D D D D
State House D D D D D
State Senate D D D D D

Early Childhood Education Programs Link copied!

Early Childhood Education Programs

Public Pre-K Program Name

Universal Preschool Colorado Source: Colorado Department of Early Childhood 2023

Universal or Targeted Pre-K Policy

Transitioning from Targeted to Universal Pre-K Policy (4-year-olds) Colorado Department of Early Childhood 2023

Early Childhood Education Programs (3-Year-Olds) Source: NIERR 2023


  • Percent of 3-Year-Old Children Enrolled in Public Early Childhood Education Programs (8%)
  • 3-Year-old Children Enrolled in Head Start (6%)
  • Other/None (86%)

Early Childhood Education Programs (4-Year-Olds) Source: NIERR 2023


  • Percent of 4-Year-Old Children Enrolled in Public Early Childhood Education Programs (23%)
  • 4-Year-old Children Enrolled in Head Start (6%)
  • Other/None (71%)

Workforce Link copied!

2017–2019 Median Hourly Wages Source CSCCE 2018, 2020


  • Child Care Workers
    $13.18 (2017, adjusted)
    $13.79 (2019)
  • Preschool Teachers
    $14.52 (2017, adjusted)
    $15.25 (2019)
  • Preschool or Child Care Center Directors
    $23.78 (2017, adjusted)
    $23.01 (2019)

Funding Sources Link copied!

Federal and State Early Childhood Education Funding (in Millions) Source First Five Years Fund, 2022

Funding Source

  • Head Start and Early Head Start Funding ($115.4)
  • CCDBG & Mandatory Funds ($105.6)
  • CCDBG State Match ($22.1)
  • CCDBG COVID Relief Allocations - CARES, CRRSE, ARPA (CCDF & Stabilization) ($626.5)
  • State-Funded Pre-K ($56.6)
  • MIECHV ($7.7)
  • IDEA Part C ($11.1)
  • IDEA Part B, Sec 619 ($7.9)
  • TANF Early Learning and Care ($106.4)
  • Preschool Development Grant Birth ($14.5)