Ian McDowell

We have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the lives of children in poverty in Southern Arizona.

The newly-forged Pima County Preschool Investment Program (PCPIP) would make high-quality early childhood education more accessible to disadvantaged youth, while in turn creating the possibility for them to reach higher levels of educational achievement. Advanced education helps to break familial cycles of poverty and improve our community. As an active member of our community, I firmly believe that now is the time to meet this challenge.

Why would the local executive of a construction company care about this issue? Because the vitality of our workforce is critical to the future of Southern Arizona.

Companies that have recently relocated their firms to Southern Arizona or decided to expand their businesses locally are now relying on our community to provide a pipeline of local workers who are prepared for the jobs of the future. These businesses have invested significantly in Pima County. We must take steps now to change the paradigm in our region so that our citizens can thrive and our economy can flourish.

Each step along a child’s educational journey is important, and we know that having a qualified teacher in each classroom is one of the biggest influencers of student success. Research also suggests that by age 3, there is a measurable gap in vocabulary and the ability to process information between children of poor and affluent families. If disadvantaged preschool-age children do not receive high-quality early education, they can quickly fall behind, and they rarely catch up. It is in those early, formative years that a child’s educational experience is molded and can be set on a successful path.

We can, and should, continue to advocate for more funding for education at all levels from the state and federal governments.

What we should also do is invest in ourselves by establishing a regional source of funding to allow children in poverty to receive high-quality early education. If we do this now, we will ensure that more of today’s preschoolers are prepared for their educational journey. More will graduate from high school, more will learn a skilled trade and receive a certification, and more will earn a two- or four-year degree.

By supporting this measure, we also distinguish Southern Arizona as a community that invests in our community’s education above and beyond what is provided by the state. For the next company that looks to relocate its corporate headquarters with hundreds of high-paying jobs, we want a program like this to be part of our narrative. We want initiatives like this to set us apart as champions for education.

I applaud the efforts of the members of PCPIP. This group has developed a sound plan to provide early education for underserved children. They are meeting with officials from the county, city of Tucson and local private investors, and seek to create a public-private source of funds to launch this program. I encourage and implore these various entities to invest in Pima County’s disadvantaged children.

It will take time for the educational investments we make today to prove successful. Years from now we can expect to see a measurable improvement in educational attainment in Pima County, yielding a higher percentage of students who have succeeded in school and attained a postsecondary achievement that prepares them for their life’s work as a result of the high-quality early education we helped provide for them today. Working together, we can make this happen.

Ian McDowell is vice president and regional director for Sundt Construction.