A proposed measure that will ask voters to increase and extend a sales tax to fund preschool tuition credits for Denver families is one step closer to the November ballot.
The Denver City Council Government and Finance Committee approved the ballot question this morning, 3-1, kicking off a bureaucratic timeline to Election Day. Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz was the lone no vote.
Denver voters narrowly approved the .12 percent sales tax to fund the Denver Preschool Program in 2006. The program provides tuition credits to Denver 4-year-olds based on a calculation that includes family income and the quality of program they are enrolled in. The program also ranks the quality of partnered preschool sites and provides professional development to early childhood educators.
If voters approve the question, the sales tax will increase to .15 percent, or 15 cents on every $100.
The tax is set to expire in 2016. But supporters of the tax are now armed with data they believe proves the merit of the program and are prepared to ask voters in November for more money and a 10-year extension.
“We have 31,816 reasons why this is an effective measure,” said Councilman Albus Brooks, referring to the number of students who have received a tuition credit since the program launched.
Brooks is the sponsor of the council ordinance that would refer the question to voters and co-chair of the forthcoming campaign.
And the $55 million spent on those credits have paid off, supporters told the council subcommittee.
Nearly 100 percent of students who received a program tuition credit left their respective program in 2013 ready with the literacy and math skills they’d need in kindergarten, according to the Denver Preschool Program. And about one in nine had the appropriate vocabulary. Further, the first class of the program to reach third grade outperformed their peers who did not receive a tuition credit from the program on the state’s reading test.
“The research is clear: Students who come to school with larger vocabularies and a broader range of experiences simply do better throughout their school years and into their adult lives,” said Sally Augden, chairwoman of the education committee of the League of Women Voters of Denver. “Making early childhood education within the reach of all families, particularly for our low-income children, is the first step in closing the achievement gap.”
Councilman Chris Nevitt agreed.
“This makes perfect sense,” he said. “The return on investment is enormous.”
Councilwoman Faatz, who opposed the ballot question in 2006 and plans to oppose it again, said she doesn’t disagree that early childhood education is important, but she has numerous concerns about how the program is run.
“I don’t believe the city should be involved in education issues,” she said.
Faatz went on to raise concerns about the program’s administration costs and speculated about potential fraud in the program.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech countered, “it’s really hard for greater oversight without higher administration costs.”
If voters approve the ballot question, part of the tax increase would allow the program to increase its administrative costs from 5 percent to 7 percent. The program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum told the subcommittee her four-member team is at capacity and a fifth staff member is needed as the demand for the program grows.
The additional revenue will also be used to reinstate summer programs, keep up with the rising cost of tuition and demand for full- and extended-day programming.
The full council is expected to vote on sending the ballot question to voters at its Aug. 11 meeting. It will also hear public comment at that time.