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When Denver voters filled out their ballots for this year’s midterm elections, they voted not just for senators, congressmen, and the governor, but also for four-year-olds across the Mile High City. Funding for the Denver Preschool Program (DPP), which was initially passed in 2006, was set to expire in 2016, but on Tuesday, 54 percent of voters chose to increase the program’s sales tax-based funding from .12 percent to .15 percent (or 15 cents on every $100 spent)—enough to extend it through 2026. By that time, today’s four-year-olds will be getting drivers’ licenses.
“We are excited that voters decided to invest in us and Denver’s four-year-olds again,” says Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of DPP. “The earlier we start kids in preschools, the more gains they make, and [the more likely we are] to close the achievement gap.”
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DPP guarantees that high-quality early education is accessible to every four-year-old in the city and county of Denver. Families can apply for tuition credits, which are determined based on income, family size, and the quality of preschool they choose (currently, there are more than 250 participating preschools). During the 2013-14 school year, DPP funded preschool for 4,816 four-year-olds, with an average monthly support of $322 each. Since the program’s inception, nearly 32,000 four-year-olds have benefited from more than $55 million in tuition support. According to the Denver Business Journal, the average annual cost of preschool in Denver County is $11,477—the third most expensive in the state—a cost that can easily deter many families from enrolling their children.
Landrum says she hopes the boost in financial assistance will get even more kids in the classroom. “The whole reason we do this is to get kids ready for kindergarten,” Landrum says. And, it’s working. Based on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) test scores for third graders in Denver Public Schools, 64 percent of students who were enrolled in DPP were advanced or proficient in literacy and math, compared to just 56.1 percent who were not in the program.
The voter-approved extension means that DPP can continue to grow, both in terms of extra financial support for families and by reinstating much-needed summer programs. We’re all happy to see election season pass, but at least this vote counts as a big investment in the future.
To apply for the Denver Preschool Program, visit dpp.org or call 303-595-4377.
Follow assistant editor Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.