Evaluation of the Denver Preschool Program

Considering whether Denver tuition credits help toward kindergarten readiness

Many cities across the United States have established local funding streams to improve families’ access to high-quality preschool programs across early care and education (ECE) settings. One such city-led preschool effort is the Denver Preschool Program (DPP), a voter-approved sales tax initiative that provides a tuition credit for all four-year-old children within the city’s limits to attend a preschool of their families’ choosing. To empower families to choose preschool programming that best meets their needs, the DPP uses a mixed delivery model in which families can use their tuition credit in any community-based preschool, public pre-k program, or family child care home that has received a quality rating. DPP bases tuition credits on family income, family size, and the quality of the preschool that families select. Despite the promise of the DPP program, little is known as to whether receipt of the tuition credit is associated with higher levels of kindergarten readiness.

The DPP partnered with NORC and the University of Colorado, Denver to conduct a longitudinal evaluation of the DPP program. Using data collected from nine cohorts of DPP participants and non-participants between the 2009-10 and 2017-18 academic years, NORC and associated research partners addressed three research questions:

  1. How is DPP participation related to kindergarten reading achievement?
  2. Is there a relationship between DPP participation and grade retention and chronic absenteeism at kindergarten?
  3. Do associations between DPP participation and children’s academic and chronic absenteeism vary by the preschool setting that participants had attended?

Using propensity weighting and doubly robust modeling, NORC and its partners examined the relationship between DPP participation and children’s academic and behavioral readiness for kindergarten.

Results suggested that DPP aided reading levels and decreased absenteeism and retention

  • DPP participants were significantly more likely to be reading at grade level or higher than their non-DPP counterparts, both at kindergarten entry and at the end of kindergarten.
  • Compared to non-participants, DPP participants were significantly less likely to be classified as chronically absent or to be retained.
  • Relationships between DPP participation and achievement and behavioral outcomes were stronger for publicly-funded pre-kindergarten programs than for community-based preschool programs.

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