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Denver Preschool Program Evaluation

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Considering whether tuition credits improve kindergarten readiness
  • Client
    Denver Preschool Program; University of Colorado, Denver
  • Dates
    2009 - 2010, 2017 - 2018


Denver didn’t know how much a taxpayer-funded tuition program helped preschoolers.  

Many cities across the United States have established local funding streams to improve families’ access to high-quality preschool programs. The Denver Preschool Program (DPP), a voter-approved sales tax initiative, provides a tuition credit for all four-year-old children within the city’s limits to attend a preschool of their families’ choosing. 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 about whether receipt of the tuition credit is associated with higher kindergarten readiness levels. 


NORC worked with the Denver Preschool Program to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.  

DPP partnered with NORC at the University of Chicago 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, we addressed three research questions:  

  • How is DPP participation related to kindergarten reading achievement?
  • Is there a relationship between DPP participation, grade retention, and chronic absenteeism at kindergarten?
  • 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, we examined the relationship between DPP participation and children’s academic and behavioral readiness for kindergarten. 


The findings suggest that DPP boosted reading levels and decreased absenteeism. 

Key insights of the evaluation include: 

  • DPP participants were significantly more likely to read at grade level or higher than their non-DPP counterparts 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.

This study furthers our understanding of tuition credit models that aim to broaden preschool access across a variety of settings.

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