UPDATE: Pima County supervisors voted 4-1 on February 16, 2021, to allocate $10 million to fund early childhood education opportunities for youngsters from low-income families.

If approved in the budget process, the funding would provide full and partial scholarships to parents who wish to enroll their 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children in a high-quality early childhood program. The scholarship program will specifically target families whose income is under 200% of the federal poverty level.

Read her for more details.

In Pima County, only 43 percent of third-graders are minimally proficient at reading – a key educational indicator. To remedy the problem, County Supervisor Rex Scott (D-Dist. 1) is calling for the county to budget $10 million to fund scholarships for high-quality early childhood education

Rex Scott

Supervisor Rex Scott has 27 years of experience as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in local schools.

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“This measure represents a vital first step, but there will be so much more important work to do moving forward. The funds we will authorize for next year’s budget will only be able to help approximately 1000 kids,” Scott said.

“There are over 25,000 three- and four-year-old children in our county, and only 20% of them are currently enrolled in quality early childhood education. If we want to meet the necessary goal of all children having access to this benefit, we will need to commit many more resources to this cause, and “we” must include more than the Pima County government,” he added.

Scott’s measure is on the agenda of the Tuesday, February 16 Board of Supervisors meeting at 9 am, viewable at http://pima.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3

Scott was elected to the Supervisors in November 2020. He has 27 years of experience as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in local schools.

Tuition as high as $12,000

Low-income families often struggle with early learning costs, which can exceed $800 a month per child. Unsubsidized, market-rate tuition for full-day, full-year preschool for 3–4-year-olds can cost between $7,920 and $9,240 a year in Pima County, according to an April 2019 memo by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. A quality program can cost as much as tuition at the University of Arizona ($12,000 or more).

See the editorial Want a stronger Pima County? Help send a child to quality pre-k in the Arizona Daily Star, supporting the $10 million investment.

The memo states, “Research shows that children who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten, and with continued supportive education, these benefits may result in positive longer-term outcomes for those children, their parents, employers, and taxpayers. This is particularly the case for economically disadvantaged, minority, and dual-language children attending high-quality preschool.

In November 2017, Tucson voters rejected the Strong Start Tucson initiative to earmark half-cent sales tax to fund an early childhood education financial aid. Republicans had launched an anti-tax campaign, and the initiative failed by a vote of 65 percent to 35 percent.

Nevertheless, support for the idea remains strong. Arizona Daily Star published an editorial stating, “The more 3- and 4-year-olds who can attend high-quality preschool, the better, more stable and more prosperous their future and their communities’ futures will be.”

The ability of families to pay for preschool has only gotten worse over the last two years because of economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Scott’s proposal, the scholarships wholly or partly cover the cost incurred by parents who wish to enroll their three- or four-year-old child in a high-quality early childhood program. Eligible children will come from families whose income is under 200% of the federal poverty level. These scholarships would be payable only to high-quality early childhood education programs such as those run by public-school districts, childcare centers, and family home care providers.

“We cannot wait for others to lead. It is our time and our task to bring our community together on behalf of all our children. Anything less is unacceptable,” Scott said.

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