Denver's early childhood education efforts — which have been lauded nationwide — are being called a failure for not evenly creating availability and access, according to a report published Wednesday.
The report, from advocacy nonprofit Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, zeroed in on inequities between the southwest side of the city, one of the lowest income regions, and the rest of Denver.
Neighborhoods such as Cherry Creek, Congress Park and Cheesman Park have 100 percent of their preschool aged children enrolled in early education, while neighborhoods including West Colfax, Sun Valley and Westwood have less than 30 percent of children attending preschool, according to the report.
"Our current reality is that the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds that attend pre-K varies dramatically, depending on race, socioeconomic status and geography," the report states. "There is currently no viable plan in place to eliminate these inequities. Indeed, within the pre-K community, there is a widespread belief that these widely disparate enrollment rates are primarily due to Latino parents preferring other childcare options."
Padres & Jóvenes Unidos surveyed more than 300 families in southwest Denver about why their children were not in preschool. They found that 45 percent of respondents said there simply wasn't space available at their local sites. Eighteen percent said they could not afford preschool, and only 10 percent said they preferred other childcare options.
"You hear consistently that ECE programs are the foundation for having a successful academic life," said Elsa Oliva Rocha, a southwest Denver parent, and new co-executive director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos. "It's like, 'all right, we're ready to take our kids, but at the end of the day we don't have choice to be able to do that.' "
The report suggests a central database where families can look for available preschool spots across Denver. Families now have to go to individual preschools to ask if there is a spot available.
In southwest Denver, few centers have spots available to enroll new students. Most that do are rated as low-quality. Funding from the Denver Preschool Program is in part based on the preschool's quality, meaning if families enroll in a poorly rated preschool, they get less assistance to pay for that tuition.
Among five recommendations in the report is a call to make high-quality, full-day preschool free for all low-income and moderate-income families and that suspensions and expulsions become prohibited in all preschools.
The report is being presented to stakeholders at a meeting where about 40 people who work in early childhood across the state are expected to attend.