Governor Jared Polis visited the Bloomers classroom at Creative Learning Preschool, Aug. 16, 2023, helping to celebrate the launch of the Colorado Universal Preschool Program. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

DENVER | Should Colorado be allowed to keep $23.7 million raised through a state nicotine tax to help fund preschool? Or should that money be refunded to sellers of nicotine products?

That’s the gist of Proposition II (pronounced “eye-eye”), one of two statewide ballot issues voters will consider this election season. If voters approve the measure, the money will go toward the state’s new universal preschool program.

The preschool program began this fall and serves 38,000 4-year-olds and 9,000 3-year-olds with 10 to 30 hours a week of tuition-free class time. While the program has proven popular with families, its rollout has been rocky at times.

In July, thousands of families who expected tuition-free full-day preschool found out their children would get less because the state didn’t have enough money. In August, school district officials sued over the program, claiming the state is harming students with disabilities and breaking funding promises to families and schools.

Some of the $23.7 million up for grabs through the ballot measure could help solve these problems, though there’s not enough to address all of them.

Here’s a closer look at Proposition II.

It simply allows the state to keep $23.7 million raised through a nicotine tax Colorado voters approved in 2020. Because the tax raised more money than originally predicted, the state is required by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, commonly called TABOR, to ask voters if it can keep the extra revenue generated.

If voters say yes, the state will get to keep any excess revenue in future years as well.

Voters easily approved a similar measure in 2015 that allowed the state to keep extra marijuana tax revenue.

If voters reject Prop II, the $23.7 million would be refunded to wholesalers and distributors of nicotine and tobacco products, and the tax rate on nicotine products will go down by 11.5%.

If voters approve Prop II, the money will go toward Colorado’s $322 million universal preschool program — the same place most of the nicotine tax money from the 2020 ballot measure is already going.

Leaders of the campaign backing Prop II say the additional $23.7 million will help pay for half-day preschool spots next year, as well as for full-day preschool for some children with risk factors. Such children include 4-year-olds who come from lower-income families, English learners, students with special education plans, and those who are homeless or are in the foster care system.

Dozens of elected officials, community leaders, and organizations support Prop II, according to leaders of “Preschool for all Coloradans,” a campaign backing the ballot measure. Supporters include Children’s Hospital Colorado, the American Lung Association, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado PTA, Great Education Colorado, and Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.

So far, there’s no organized opposition to Prop II.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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  1. I know, the politicians believe in “it’s for the children” as a magic phrase that will melt the heart of the most cynical voter. Yet I have seen enough attacks on TABOR, that I do NOT trust politicians to spend tax money on education as promised. I have become so cynical that I say we should not, I say again NOT throw any more money at the current public education system. Why? Just a couple of months back, I listened in on an Arapahoe County “Town Hall” where the county authorities, including the county assessor who should know better, were piteously pleading that the county needs more money because Arapahoe County Government gets only 13% of the Property Tax revenues. Judging from past, successful, efforts to dance around TABOR with the magic words “it’s for the children” what will happen is that even if tobacco taxes are routed to the education system, there will be cuts from other funding streams to roughly cancel it out. THAT is how funding promises get broken! The net result is that students will continue to leave the public school system not understanding that a 13% slice of a pie which is growing 40%, 50%, 60% or more is not, itself, going to grow too. And don’t fall for the swindle called Prop. HH. It will not, as claimed, reduce your property taxes, but only slow the increase, in exchange for giving up your TABOR refunds for about a decade, and, if the authorities in power a decade from now are just as willing to say “gimme” as they are now, forever.

    Call us disorganized if you must. Anyone who has learned from history (or civics) will oppose both Propositions.

  2. Democrats have been trying every election cycle to chip away at out TABOR refunds. It drives them mad that they can’t have even more money to waste. HH is just that. A chip away at your refund for a decade. Your property tax will still go up – guaranteed. However, you will not have the refund going forward to offset anything – higher utilities costs, property taxes, medical expenses. The tax on nicotine (which I supported) over-performed. They got the amount of money they said they needed to cover what will be the never ending, we need more Universal PreK programs. Now they are greedy and want to keep it. They need to refund it to the distributors – PER THE LAW. Vote NO on both – send a message.

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