Universal Preschool and the COVID-19 Pandemic

We have a crisis in child care and the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the inequity that has long existed for our communities of color, particularly Latino and Black families. Access to early education is critical, as too many children enter kindergarten a year or more behind their classmates in academic and social-emotional skills. For some children, starting out school already behind can trap them in a cycle of continuous catch-up in their learning. As a nation, we must ensure that all children, regardless of income or race, have access to high-quality early education opportunities.

The ability to work remotely is not a reality for many communities, making the availability of affordable child care crucial for these families to be able to go to work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 16.2% of Hispanic or Latino workers and 19.7% of Black or African American workers can telework. This is due to a disproportionate number of Latino and Black essential workers being in low-paying jobs like the food industry, retail, janitorial and construction, where average salaries are as low as $2,000 per month. Latino and Black families are struggling to maintain housing, food and other essentials and, with the average cost of preschool in Denver at $956 per month, access to early education and care for their children is just impossible.

The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) is a successful example of how to support all families in accessing high-quality preschool. Approved by Denver voters in 2006 and reauthorized in 2014, DPP is funded by a .15 percent sales tax. Since 2006, we have provided nearly $123 million in tuition support to more than 55,000 children.  With an average monthly tuition support of $788 (and as high as $1,000) we make access to high-quality early education possible for all our families.

The case for universal preschool is clear, but it is now critical as we recognize that supporting our families, particularly Latino and Black families who are essential workers, is beneficial not just for our children but to our overall economy.

Elsa Holguin, President and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program