By Talia Traskos-Hart
Next month, Denver voters will decide whether to make permanent the current 0.15% sales and use tax funding the Denver Preschool Program (DPP).
Since 2006, the tax has increased from the initial 0.12% and expanded access to preschool for 65,000 children. Some students from the first DPP cohort will graduate from college this year.
The measure, Denver Ballot Question 2P, would not raise current taxes, but it would remove the current Dec. 31, 2026, expiration date on DPP funding. DPP CEO Elsa Holguín said that making the tax permanent would allow the program to target Denver’s childcare deserts and increase rates of access to preschool, which is in line with the state’s work expanding early childhood education programs.
DPP’s continuation has twice been approved by voters in its 17-year history. In 2006, the program began with 0.12% funding. It was reauthorized by voters in 2014 and increased by 0.03 percentage points to 0.15%. In 2016 voters extended the program, at 0.15%, to 2026.
Ballot measures in 2014 and 2016 passed with wide margins, which Holguín said she is optimistic to see this fall. She emphasized that voters will not see sales and use tax rates increase. There is no organized opposition campaign to Ballot Question 2P this fall.
“I hope we have the same support, now we have modeled how we can provide services for children. Our last ballot initiative was very successful … and I am hoping that continues to be the case,” Holguín said. “This is a continuation of what we have already been funding.”
Since DPP began, it has expanded the number of high-quality providers in the city from 42 to 270. Holguín emphasized that DPP aims to meet communities where they are, providing childcare in Spanish, certifying religious and secular providers, and allowing home schooling and models of alternative education. A number of providers have been trained and certified in North Denver, such as Family Star Montessori.
“The Elyria-Swansea community is one of the communities considered a licensed childcare desert because they don’t have enough centers for the high number of children under 5,” Holguín said. “These are exactly the communities where we need to come in and provide these high levels of support.”
Currently, DPP funds enable 60% of 4-year-olds to attend Denver preschools, Holguín said. Through pandemic challenges, the program worked to keep these rates high.
“During the pandemic, more than ever we learned that without high-quality childcare parents aren’t able to go to work and our economy suffers,” Holguín said. “We also know that childcare is the largest expenditure that a family faces each month. So for us to be able to come and support the families that in the long run are also the workers in the community … it’s a very good return on investment model.”
Holguín noted that extending the tax permanently may allow DPP to expand programs to younger children. The program currently has a limited capacity to support 3-year-old students.
“More than anything, we will have the ability to really continue to do this high-quality support of a preschool at a time when it is the most needed, when parents need stability,” Holguín said.
If Ballot Question 2P passes, the sales and use tax will be in place “until such authority is altered or repealed by the Denver City Council or Denver voters.”