We have a wonderful opportunity to show who we are as a community — a chance to demonstrate that we truly care about giving our children a strong start for their future.
Everyone knows that a high-quality early childhood education is the most important factor in giving children the power to be successful.
Children who go to high-quality preschool perform better in school, complete more years of education and become productive members of a more educated workforce. There are 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson. Currently, only 16 percent of them attend high-quality early education.
I was a working single mom who raised a child in Tucson and I know it’s even tougher for moms and dads today to pay the cost of preschool (about $600 a month) for one child. Many times the cost of pre-kindergarten is unaffordable so the parent must stay home instead of getting a job.
As a former state legislator, I watched in disbelief as a majority of my colleagues repeatedly voted against policies that would fund public education. I wish it weren’t true, but I have no expectation that this will change for the better any time soon.
Children’s advocacy groups have worked tirelessly for eight years to restore statewide assistance for child care for working families, which was virtually eliminated in 2009.
Thousands of families are on the “wait forever” list. Tucson’s children can’t wait for state legislators to have a change of heart.
A quarter of the children in our community live in poverty, and that is absolutely unacceptable. All children deserve a chance to reach their full potential. Children who by age 5 receive high-quality education are 40 percent less likely to need special education or to be held back a grade, and are 70 percent more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not. High-quality preschool has been extensively studied and has shown gains in academic achievement, earnings and career success as well as reduced crime and dependence on welfare. Strong Start Tucson (SST) will help Tucson’s children escape poverty and gain the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
SST will be supported by an increase the city sales tax of half a cent (one penny on the cost of a $2 ice cream cone.) SST Funds cannot be diverted to any other purpose.
SST will be voluntary and open for children who have not entered kindergarten. Priority is given to children 3 and 4 years old. Scholarships are based on income and family size.
Only high-quality early childhood education programs and preschools are eligible to be providers. Objective third-party quality measurements ensure program quality. The Strong Start Tucson initiative includes strategic development for more quality options in high-need areas.
A board of commissioners will develop and enforce rules and report to the public on program results. A qualified nonprofit agency will be selected to administer the program.
Tucsonans have voted for smooth roads and safe streets, and now we need to support a bright future and a strong start for all our kids.