2016-2022: LEADERSHIP, LEGISLATION and INNOVATION
2017-2019 Highlights and Milestones
- Welcomed New CEO
- Launched the Gap Scholarship
- Developed new quality improvement plans and added teacher course credits
- Received new student outcomes data
- Launched Preschool Showcase at the Denver Zoo
2017 - 2019 was an exciting time for Denver Preschool Program. In thinking deeply about how to further support Denver families, we also created and launched a pilot scholarship program to benefit our families with the greatest financial need. And because the best predictor for school readiness is a strong relationship between students and their teachers, we invested nearly $3 million in preschool quality improvement to support our providers and their programs.
A New CEO
Elsa Hoguín is a pillar of our state’s early childhood education community, and her early childhood experience runs deep. She came to DPP from Rose Community Foundation, where she served as the senior program officer for Child & Family Development for 21 years. During that time, she oversaw more than $50 million in early childhood development grants, positioning the foundation as a leader in this area. She played a pivotal role in the initiative that eventually became DPP during her time there.
Elsa is also a founding member and the current co-chair of Colorado’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission. She played an instrumental role in the creation of Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood, the Denver Opportunity Youth Investment Initiative, the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado and the Skills to Compete Coalition, and was a founding member of Early Milestones Colorado. She is a member of the Children’s Funding Project Policy Advisory Group and serves on the boards of Borealis Philanthropy and Tools of the Mind.
Creation of Gap Scholarship
In 2019, an internal taskforce developed a gap scholarship program that reaches families living at or below 300% of the federal poverty line.
The scholarship funds are intended to ensure that these families spend no more than 12% of their income on preschool tuition (that level has since been dropped to 7%). Given the fact that the cost of living in Denver is higher than many other places in our state and many of the families we serve face significant financial challenges, DPP families with the greatest financial need in community-based preschools at times spend upwards of 40% of their income on preschool tuition.
The Gap Scholarship pilot program was approved for up to three years so that DPP can accurately gauge both the long-term feasibility of such a program and how such funding can bolster our targeted families’ abilities to afford and attend a quality preschool.
During this time, we also focused on improving our approach to our evaluation process. We built in additional layers of evaluation and updated our child outcomes research design so that we could better demonstrate cause and effect between high-quality preschool and kindergarten readiness. While still utilizing our existing study design to measure our preschoolers’ progress from the beginning to the end of their pre-kindergarten year, we added a new layer to compare academic and social-emotional growth of newly enrolled DPP children with our children who have completed preschool and are moving on to kindergarten.
We hosted our 4th Preschool Forum in 2018-2019 for providers – this time with a twist. For the first time in the Forum’s history, we offered a college coursework component for participants seeking either undergraduate or graduate degree credits. Life is busy for our preschool providers, and this was one more way we could help them reach their goals of being the best possible teachers for their students that fit within their demanding schedules.
We partnered with the University of Colorado at Denver to design the curriculum and corresponding assignments, and we worked with our existing team of coaches to help participants meet the additional requirements. Of the approximately 100 Forum participants, 20 of them took advantage of this unique opportunity and completed the assignments and coaching necessary to earn credits toward their degrees.
We signiﬁcantly increased the number of coaching hours we funded (more than 5,400 during the year), so that more of our early childhood education professionals were able to beneﬁt.
Student Outcomes Data
With a steadfast commitment to data, DPP engaged in further research to prove the strength of programming for students. In the 2018-2019 program year, 234 new DPP students participated in our child outcomes study.
- On average, preschool students enrolled in a DPP preschool developed at or above expectations over the course of the 2018-2019 school year.
- DPP students showed statistically significant increases from fall to spring in their standard scores on vocabulary assessments administered in English and math assessments administered in Spanish, meaning students improved at a faster rate in these areas than we’d generally expect with typical development.
- They also demonstrated statistically significant improvements in teacher ratings of social-emotional development (including self-regulation, initiative and attachment) over the course of the year.
When comparing the two groups of students involved in our new layer of research, we were also thrilled to find that the impact of attending a DPP preschool was statistically significant, with the largest benefits seen in early literacy and math.
Preschool Showcase – At the Zoo!
We hosted our 7th Preschool Showcase in 2019 at a new location, the Denver Zoo. It was a hit with both families and schools alike, and we saw our highest Showcase turnout in recent years with more than 50 preschools participating and 500 attendees.
2017-2019 Summary and the start of COVID
We ended the 2018-2019 program year with a clear understanding that change was on the horizon for early childhood education — due in large part to factors like the ever-changing demographics and rising birth rates in Denver, and the exciting prospect of expanded state funding for preschool throughout Colorado. As we transitioned into a new program year, we envisioned four key priority focus areas for DPP in 2020: early childhood workforce development, early childhood mental health, extending tuition support to three-year-olds, and widening the reach of our new Gap Scholarship. But as we entered 2020, everything changed.
2019-2020 Highlights and Milestones
- COVID deeply affects early education and DPP pivots to respond
- DPP shares helpful data for the future of Early Childhood Education
- Proposition EE
- Launch of online application and extended language access
As the pandemic took over our lives, people feared for their health, the health of their loved ones, and their job security. Our global economy shifted as we worked remotely and practiced social distancing while also trying to homeschool our children and lend a hand to those in need. One clear learning that was already apparent was how crucial early childhood education is to the fabric of our economy. Denver Preschool Program leaned into trusted partnerships and collaborated with education leaders in Denver and nationally to create new programs, and adjust current ones to better serve the needs of families in this tumultuous time.
DPP’s Response to COVID – Pivoting with a purpose
During an unprecedented pandemic, it was even more important that we were fully transparent in how we redistributed expenditures so that families and preschool providers experiencing new challenges were given relevant support.
What We Reduced:
- Administrative expenses
- Communications fees
- Evaluation fees
What We Prioritized:
- Direct support to families
- Grants and direct quality improvement supports to preschool providers
- Pilot programs designed to test the effectiveness of new early childhood education resources
Stipends for Providers
Preschool providers who did not receive federal, state, or local funding during the crisis were 1.6 times more likely to close. DPP distributed nearly $100,000 in emergency grants to child care centers and family child care homes to cover their immediate needs like payroll and personal protective equipment with the goal of sustaining operations without sacrificing quality. As of September 2020, only 5% of DPP providers had closed, due, in large part, to DPP’s support.
Support for Essential Workers
Within days of Colorado Governor Jared Polis issuing the first shelter-in-place order on March 18, 2020, a network of public and private entities including DPP launched the Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative: a system of emergency child care centers and tuition credits for essential workers.
As an established steward of public early childhood education dollars, DPP was pleased to serve as the Collaborative’s fiscal agent. In less than two months, DPP helped transfer approximately $11 million dollars to 498 preschools so that 5,086 children of essential workers could receive child care at no cost.
To increase the availability and quality of virtual preschool options, DPP partnered with Denver Public Schools and other local ECE partners to launch the Distance Learning Task Force. Members of the task force developed a distance learning plan based on best practices in early childhood education. Each preschool provider in the pilot could customize the plan based on their unique needs. DPP also committed $700,000 to support providers in their efforts to build and sustain distance learning programming.
Support for Foster Youth
DPP determined all 4-year-olds in foster care who are enrolled in a DPP-participating preschool program in the year before kindergarten were categorically eligible for the highest level of tuition support at Household Income Tier 1. This new change automatically assigned DPP-eligible foster children to the tier indicating the highest need for support, helping ensure more 4-year-olds within a vulnerable demographic have increased access to quality early childhood education at a critical time in their development.
Cost of Care
DPP increased the impact of the DPP Scholarship (previously called the Gap Scholarship), a three-year pilot in its second year that paid for 100% of preschool tuition costs for families with lower incomes who did not have access to other ECE funding sources (such as the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program or the Colorado Preschool Program). DPP revised our approach toward bridging the gap between what preschool programs request and can collect from Scholarship families by using annual cost of care instead of published tuition rates for families that are Scholarship-eligible.
The outcome was that under the new policy, DPP community-based sites with Scholarship students received more tuition credits to improve and maintain their quality. Additionally, 151 families were able to receive an increased level of support through the Scholarship to better help their child attend a quality preschool (the Scholarship’s positive impact on one family is included below).
Language Accessibility and Intentional Inclusivity
In early 2020, DPP developed our highly-anticipated online application. The application was originally available in Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese with plans to translate it into six more languages by the fall of 2021. Families could also receive phone support and read key pages of DPP’s website in all five languages.
DPP Data Used to Educate on ECE
In 2020, researchers including DPP’s Director of Enrollment & Evaluation, Dr. Marina Mendoza, published a study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly to bring stakeholders closer to the answer.
The study examined DPP’s tuition credit model and how it relates to children’s academic retention and attendance outcomes at kindergarten: specifically, how approximately 39,000 children who participated in DPP over 10 academic years (2009-2010 to 2018-2019) fared in kindergarten as compared to 34,000 children who did not participate in DPP.
The findings were encouraging. “We found DPP participants were more likely to read at grade level and less likely to be retained or to be chronically absent than students who did not receive a DPP tuition credit,” Dr. Mendoza said. That means that, in general, DPP participants met reading standards, missed fewer school days and progressed to higher grade levels without having to repeat a year. DPP is proud that our 10 years of data-driven success was used to shape the adoption and improvement of government-funded early childhood education programs in the state and across the nation.
In 2020, Proposition EE, a voter approved nicotine tax measure, passed, assuring Universal Preschool in 2023. Proposition EE is a win for education and an opportunity for DPP to stand as a leader in the Denver and national communities.
At the close of 2020, the pandemic continued to affect families on all levels: financial, physical, and mental. DPP is proud that the pilot programs from this year showed great success bridging the gap to continue student learning, keep provider doors open, and teachers supported.
2020-2021 Highlights and Milestones
- Provider Support and Workforce Stipends
- Pilot Programs: Preschool for 3s, Bonus Year
- Commitment to Equity
In 2021, Denver Preschool Program was able to reposition funds to better support the needs of Denver families during and post pandemic. As a thought leader and innovation engine, DPP felt a responsibility to continue to provide reimagined solutions to the ever-changing needs of the community. A primary concern was ensuring that providers were able to keep their doors open and keep essential teaching staff compensated through the financial tumult.
Provider Support and Workforce Stipends
- Funded approximately 5,200 hours of virtual coaching and 100 hours of virtual professional development training with early childhood experts to help provide quality early learning experiences via new platforms.
- Provided $785,350 in Strengthening Grants to help providers offset significant pandemic-related financial losses due to decreased enrollment and increased operating expenses for items such as health and safety supplies.
- Funded nearly $380,000 in Quality Improvement Grants that providers could use on a range of new expenses including preschool staff bonuses/wages, rent/general operating and non-permanent building items related to COVID-19 operations.
- Granted approximately $294,000 in teacher/director achievement awards and approximately $62,000 in program achievement awards, providing key financial support for completion of quality improvement activities such as training, coaching, or earning Colorado's Early Childhood Coaching Credential.
- DPP and Denver's Office of Children's Affairs (OCA) collaborated to offer every staff member at eligible DPP-participating community sites (i.e. non-Denver Public Schools sites) a financial stipend. The project's primary goal was to support the financial wellbeing of educators so they could afford to remain working in early childhood education. The stipends were also intended to show appreciation to staff and teachers for their amazing work.
The conditions of the ongoing pandemic showed that the effects of the learning loss were significant. Many families asked providers if they could hold back their students so that the young learners could have extra time in preschool. The “bonus” year was proposed to help students be more prepared for kindergarten, setting them up for success in and out of the classroom.
Preschool for 3s
DPP was thrilled to equitably expand access to high-quality preschool for a limited number of 3-year-olds in the Denver area beginning in the 2021-2022 program year! In addition to our traditional tuition credits for 4-year-olds, this new program put preschool within reach for children who turn three by October 1. Preschool for 3s created a continuum of support for families and was also an exciting step in a larger early childhood education plan for Denver.
New Equity Statement and Commitments
Quality early childhood education plays a critical role in early development, school readiness, and, therefore, long-term success for every child, helping to end the cycle of generational poverty and benefitting our community as a whole.
Alongside our partners, DPP will continue to make efforts toward equity and inclusion, address the preschool deserts in our communities, support early childhood workforce development, streamline early childhood education enrollment processes, and rethink policies that may be creating barriers for families. Addressing early childhood education in Colorado is an issue that affects all of us, and it is certainly a collaborative effort that we are proud to play a part in.
DPP’s New Equity Statement: DPP believes every child deserves equitable access to quality early childhood education and the opportunity to benefit from our promise: a strong foundation for a successful future. DPP re-committed to bold action to help eliminate differences in educational outcomes as a result of systemic racism, generational poverty, and discrimination through our role in early childhood education.
Closing out the Year in Preparation for Universal Pre-Kindergarten
As a leader in ECE discussions, the realities of universal preschool and the continuing and ever-changing needs of Denver families were top of mind at the end of 2021. DPP welcomed the new year with a deepened understanding of the complexities and opportunities of this new program and poised to take a pivotal role in its inception.
Universal preschool (UPK) is just one piece of the overall equation to ensure our young children are prepared for kindergarten. The good news is that with DPP as a complement to statewide universal preschool, many Denver families will be able to have their preschool needs met fully. It's really a win-win as there will be more resources for Denver families and young children. In preparation for UPK, DPP was able to expand current offerings and our role in the Early Childhood Education landscape in the following ways:
- Thanks to UPK in Colorado, DPP was able to expand tuition credits to 3-year-olds at the highest levels of needs to increase our commitment to our vision that every child enters kindergarten ready to reach their full potential. This means three years of support for our youngest learners.
- DPP was uncompromising in our commitment to our value of leadership in action, which entails “championing early childhood education, ensuring the community realizes the benefits of investments in young children.” At the close of the year, DPP was committed to continuing to advocate for additional funding for early childhood education in our community, supporting policies and funding that impact the workforce of educators and their livelihood, and welcoming the opportunity to share our leadership and learnings.