Denver council puts preschool funding question on November ballot

DENVER — The city council voted 10-1 Monday night to refer a question of a proposed sales tax hike to support the Denver Preschool Program to voters this fall.

Following testimony mostly from supporters of the program and the council’s vote, the proposed tax hike — an additional 15 cents on every $100 spent — will be on Denver’s November ballot.

“We are asking Denver voters to continue to invest in the next generation by supporting a program with proven results,” Gloria Higgins, President of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, testified before the Denver City Council. “DPP allows students to get a better start at their education and allows parents to know their children are in a safe learning environment so they can go to work.”

Founded in 2007, the Denver Preschool Program has offered a total of $55 million in  tuition assistance to Denver families in scale to their financial need, helping close to 32,000 four-year-olds attend at least a year of pre-school before attending kindergarten.

“This investment impacts all of the students who come through our classrooms. Currently, 93% of DPP students go to a 3 start or higher rated preschool,” said Pamela Harris, the President and CEO of Mile High Montessori and a former COO of the Denver Preschool Program.

The ballot question, pushed by Mayor Michael Hancock, will ask voters to re-authorize the existing tax of 12 cents per $100 spent and to increase it by an additional three cents.

Supporters say the additional revenue will help restore year-round preschool cuts suffered during the recession, meet the growing demand for full- and extended-day programming and allow the program to keep up with rising tuition costs.

“For Denver to truly become a city of opportunity for every child, we must remain focused on eliminating the achievement gap. That means boosting the number of kids receiving quality early childhood education,” Hancock said in a statement thanking the council Monday night.

“It is my hope that the people of Denver once again demonstrate their commitment to Denver’s youngest students and to our future come November. Nearly 70 percent of Denver’s four-year-olds are enrolled in the Denver Preschool Program, one of the best participation rates in the country, and these students are also outperforming their peers. The program is proven to have a lasting impact on our families and is an integral investment in the future of our children and our city.”

Council member Jeanne Faatz was the only official to vote against the proposal being on the ballot Monday night.