Denver ‘Raising of Fort Worth’ Panel Shares Early Ed Insights & Best Practices

ROFW_DenverOn Tuesday, June 20th, the Raising of Fort Worth hosted the second city in its national tour of early education best practices: Denver, Colorado. Moderated by Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, the Denver panel consisted of:

Since 2006, Denver has been steadily working to increase the access and availability of high quality early learning opportunities through the public school system, home and center-based childcare, parent advisors, and an engaged business community. Today, data from Denver boasts educational gains that persist through the 7th grade among children who had the opportunity to attend high-quality early childhood programs.

The objective of June 20th’s discussion with the Denver, CO community was to highlight:

  1. How business and philanthropy came together to support early childhood at the local and state levels,
  2. How polling and community engagement helped build broad-based support and messaging buy-in with the Denver community, and
  3. How Denver Preschool Program 10 years later continues to impact quality learning environments and child outcomes.

Nearly 150 Raising of Fort Worth attendees received handouts at the event that provided background information on Denver demographics, as well as the panel members’ respective work histories and accomplishments. These documents have been posted at the following links:

Key topics and takeaways from the panel discussion included:

1. Denver Preschool Program. The Denver Preschool Program has been pivotal to the early childhood movement in Denver and across Colorado. It enables all families with a 4 year-old to attend preschool, regardless of their income or neighborhood.ROFW_Denver_2

  • DPP is funded through a dedicated sales tax that was first approved by voters in 2006 and renewed and extended in 2014.
  • Community polling was critical to DPP’s initial efforts. It helped 1) develop DPP’s messaging, 2) choose an appropriate tax percentage that would fund the program, and 3) drive an overall strategy that would best resonate with local parents and community members.
  • Results from 2016 showed DPP students outperforming their peers as compared to a national norm of 50 percentage points in each of the following three areas[1]:
    • 59% in Vocabulary
    • 78% in Literacy
    • 67% in Math

2. Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC). This early childhood business coalition has four (4) statewide chapters across Colorado.

  • In Pueblo, CO, there are 35 executive member organizations (paying $5,000 in dues per year), anEPIC_picd 70 network members (paying $1,000 in dues per year).
  • The EPIC Pueblo chapter has been successful in launching the “Colorado Business Reads” initiative that distributed 4,000 free books to children’s homes in 2016.
  • EPIC has been a strong advocate in establishing and maintaining Colorado’s Child Care Contribution Tax Credit (CCTC), which provides individuals and businesses up to a 50% income tax credit of monetary contributions that go toward promoting child care and early education.
  • Burnie Zercher, EPIC Pueblo’s representative, encouraged communities to have a tangible project for business leaders to engage in at the outset prior to moving into local or statewide advocacy work.

3. The Rose Community Foundation. The Rose Community Foundation has been part of an Early Education Funders’ Group that was instrumental in funding Denver’s initial efforts and gaining broader community buy-in regarding the importance of investing in early childhood.

  • The Early Education Funders’ Group created a PowerPoint presentation on the importance of early education and trained each of its philanthropy leaders on how to use it.  The funders presented it about 100 times to different community leaders, and this helped change the local conversation around how childhood experiences from birth to age 5 contribute to future education, work, and life success.
  • The Rose Community Foundation partnered with the business community to help clarify and refine the messaging and goals of DPP before it launched. “Business leaders were helpful in getting us to define exactly what we would be funding and how we would define success,” Elsa Holguin said.
  • Parenting polls revealed that parents are being confused by a bombardment of messages from the market. Denver also learned that many parents were listening to their own parents’ advice more than any other source. This suggested there is a need for a three-generation approach to parent engagement efforts (children, parent, and grandparent communications).
  • Innovative, parent-centered outreach approaches have been successful in reaching some harder-to-reach populations in several communities across CO. One community revamped school buses to become mobile child development centers that would drive into local neighborhoods. Spanish-speaking teachers who facilitated activities and reading in parents’ native language helped local families feel more comfortable engaging in these learning opportunities. 

4. Denver Public Schools. In 2015, DPS invited local early childhood leaders to launch the Birth to 8 Roadmap initiative that would focus on closing opportunity gaps among the city’s youngest learners. The Mayor's Children’s Cabinet is comprised of city agency executives and other government leaders that have established 5 citywide youth goals for Denver’s children and youth. Members of Mayor Hancock’s cabinet are helping to lead this effort.

  • The launching of Denver Preschool Program provided a uniform high expectation of quality across home-based, school-based, and center-based pre-K.
  • The QRIS rating system is called “Colorado Shines.” Denver provides resources that help centers match this standard, including funding evaluations and quality enhancements.
  • Since adopting the Denver Plan 2020 Every Child Succeeds in 2006, Denver Public Schools together with its community partners posted record enrollment increases in pre-K and Kindergarten, and increased the graduation rate by 23%.

5. Clayton Early Learning. Clayton Early Learning has been involved with providing the assessments, evaluation, and training needed to support Denver Preschool Program participants and associated quality efforts.

  • Many counties in Colorado enable stacking or braiding of funds to support the opportunity for all children to access quality early learning.
  • Data is critical: Setting up evaluation agreements that allow tracking of students in perpetuity (not just into kindergarten) enable longitudinal analysis of early learning efforts.
  • The DPP Student Outcomes Study completed in 2017 concluded:
    • DPP students’ readiness at the end of their Pre-K year has been strongly linked to their later performance in elementary school.Rose_Community
    • DPP students maintained their “advantage” through sixth grade, confirming the DPP hypothesis that high-quality early education does have persistent effects for all students who have access to it.

Denver’s cross-sector approach to early learning has emerged as a national bright spot, most recently evidenced by its longitudinal analysis of academic gains from its quality pre-K efforts. The Raising of Fort Worth panel presentation illuminated valuable strategies employed by the Denver community, including:

  • Vetting the importance and messaging of early education in its community through polling,
  • Mobilizing business and other leaders to advocate for important early childhood policies,
  • Braiding federal, state, and local funding to maximize services, and
  • Supporting efforts to help elevate the quality of early learning opportunities for all young children.

We were grateful for the opportunity to learn from this Denver panel, and look forward to continuing the discussion of how we can innovate and improve in our local early childhood efforts to provide every child a strong start.

For more information on early education efforts in Fort Worth or how to get involved, we encourage you to visit the following websites:

[1] Children Scoring at the National Average of 100 in Either Language – Spring 2016