News: State Policy & Advocacy

Denver Voters Approve Sales Tax Increase to Fund College Scholarships for Local Students

Monday, December 17, 2018  
Share |

DSF CEO Lorii Rabinowitz with two DSF Scholars.

By guest blogger Lorii Rabinowitz, CEO of Denver Scholarship Foundation

Last month, Denver’s voters made history by passing Initiated Ordinance 300, also referred to by its campaign name, Prosperity Denver. The ordinance will raise city sales tax by .08 percent to fund scholarships for local, limited-income students up to age 25 who attend an accredited Colorado nonprofit public or private community college, university, or technical college.

The tax increase is anticipated to create a yearly scholarship fund of $14 million, directed by a committee comprised of mayoral appointees and a member of City Council.

This fund drives systemic change for under-resourced students in our community to gain access to opportunity. Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) has been a proud leader of the effort to pass the ordinance, which has been underway for several years. After an unsuccessful attempt to pass a somewhat similar sales tax initiative in 2015, the success of the 2018 ordinance is a true testament to the impact of collaboration.

Through Initiated Ordinance 300, more than 20 nonprofit organizations, board and community members, college and district partners, donors, and government officials – including the governor of Colorado, the current mayor of Denver, the three previous mayors, and the local chamber of commerce – joined together to invest in Denver’s future on a scale the city has never seen.

As the first of its kind in the nation, the fund will operate on a pay-for-performance model through a reimbursement of tuition grants and academic support services provided by nonprofit scholarship organizations, such as DSF. As students demonstrate success, eligible nonprofits can apply for reimbursement through this fund, up to 75 percent of total scholarship dollars awarded with additional reimbursement for student support services provided by the organization. If a student does not succeed, the public does not pay. 

Initiated Ordinance 300 was created as a bridge to span the opportunity gap that exists in Denver. By the year 2020, 74 percent of jobs in the area will require a college degree. However, less than half of current Denver residents 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is due to a widespread belief that college is not financially possible, compounded by financial, social, and academic pressures that hinder degree completion.

With the passage of this ordinance, DSF and many other local nonprofit organizations have the opportunity to expand scholarships and services to students. Thanks to the support of voters, our college access and college success programs will reach even more students as Denver’s economy continues to grow.

 DSF Scholars celebrate their achievements at the Graduation Celebration event.

DSF partners with Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) students on their journeys to and through college graduation. Our work starts in the DSF Future Centers, located in DPS high schools, where DSF college advisors provide students with college access services. DSF offers a need-based, renewable scholarship for up to four years to qualifying DPS graduates.

On campus, DSF collaborates with 31 college partners to guarantee DSF Scholars additional academic and financial support. DSF campus advisors, the newest addition to our College Success program, work at the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and University of Colorado Denver to provide additional wraparound services.

Education is an equalizer. It opens doors and broadens horizons, builds workforce and pride, strengthens family economic security, and enhances community economic vitality. Our community is stronger through collaboration and efforts of public and private funds coming together, which we believe will bring forth the greatest result – opportunity driving success for students, families, businesses, and communities – to continue to build prosperity for Denver.

To learn more about DSF, visit

(Photos courtesy of DSF)