Preschool in Tucson

Supporters of Prop. 204 noted that the average high-quality preschool costs about $800 per month.

A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star 2016/

This is a challenge to every Tucson voter who looked at Proposition 204 and said, “While I support Strong Start Tucson’s goal of providing affordable high-quality early childhood education to thousands of kids, I can’t vote ‘yes’ because of how the proposition was written:

We must get to work. We must find a way to expand early childhood education opportunities so all families who want to send their young kids to a high-quality preschool can afford to do so.

Strong Start Tucson, the group that wrote and campaigned for Prop. 204, nailed the need — early childhood is crucial in brain development and education. Investing in a child’s early life pays off for years to come.

Unfortunately, the proposition language and structure lacked enough quality-control and taxpayer protections that many people and organizations who would usually be counted on to support education and children found themselves in the uncomfortable position of opposing it.

We count the Star’s Editorial Board among this group.

Time and again, we heard variations of “I wish I could support this, because I support kids and early childhood education, but …”

Strong Start Tucson organizers had good reasons for every decision they made.

They made it Tucson-only because they knew a sales tax increase wouldn’t pass in Pima County; they didn’t put a sunset, or renewal, date in the proposition because running a campaign is difficult and if opponents wanted to change or end the program, they should have to do the work themselves; they asked for a half-cent sales tax — a big ask — because their research indicated voters were OK with it.

But, in the end, voters said no. Some would have said no to any tax request, no matter how worthy the cause. At least one national anti-tax group pushed hard to tank Prop. 204.

Others, like the Star Editorial Board, wanted to support Prop. 204 but, in the end, decided the proposition’s shortcomings were too significant. We agree with the goal, but not that process.

So, what do we, as a community, do now?

Early childhood education remains an urgent need. Influential organizations, such as the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, have said that Strong Start Tucson organizers should have reached out more and included them — so their concerns could have been addressed before the language was finalized.

Strong Start Tucson responded that it spoke with many, many people while researching and drafting Prop. 204.

We need a clean slate, and a different process.

Strong Start Tucson proponents made a compelling point during the campaign: That many people say they support early childhood education, but Strong Start Tucson members are the only ones who took action. They mobilized and mounted a difficult campaign, while everyone else just talked about the problem.

For that, our community owes a debt to Strong Start Tucson, particularly to organizers Penelope Jacks and Kelly Griffith. They recognized that if we want to improve education, we can’t wait for the Legislature to do something. We must do it ourselves. In that, they are right.

Tucson voters rejected Prop. 204 — but, if we believe many who voted against it, they did so because of the structure, not the purpose.

The Star Editorial Board is taking up affordable early childhood education as one of our top priorities.

We will seek out data, case studies of what’s worked and what hasn’t elsewhere, best practices and what’s already working.

Southern Arizona has come together before to tackle big needs — think of the Regional Transportation Authority or the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Neither were quick, nor easy, but they built widespread support and buy-in by identifying and agreeing on a need, building consensus and, in the case of the RTA, obtaining voter approval.

Together, we can do this.