A bipartisan bill that would create college savings plans for preschoolers survived its first legislative test Monday, passing the House Education Committee 8-3.

House Bill 16-1196 is only a baby step. It would create a three-year pilot program covering up to 2,000 children a year. The state would contribute to the 529 savings accounts  — $50 per child. The pilot program also would seek private donations to the accounts.

The Aspire to College Program would be focused on kids from low-income families with a goal of giving a head start to children whose parents might not be thinking about college or how to pay for it.

“It’s an opportunity program, not a safety net program,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, a co-sponsor.

Research shows that students with college savings accounts, even small ones, are more likely to attend and graduate from college, said Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who’s teamed with Rankin in pushing the bill.

“It’s an investment in the future,” said Rich Jones of the Bell Policy Center, one of several witnesses who testified for the bill during the 90-minute hearing.

Some committee members were skeptical of the bill, asking if it would be big enough to have an impact, how its results would be evaluated and how the program would be used to teach financial literacy to poor families.

“I don’t like the fact that we’re starting new programs in light of our other huge obligations that we’re not funding,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.

The idea for the program came from the state Department of Human Services. The estimated $100,000 in annual costs would be covered by existing department funds. Wilson asked why the agency hasn’t already started a pilot program. A bill is necessary because Aspire would be a new program, Rankin said.