Access to high-quality preschool is the key that opens the door to educational opportunity and success.

Make Way for Books is an early childhood literacy nonprofit organization that works to ensure children are given the chance to read and succeed. For 21 years, we have impacted hundreds of thousands of children in our community by providing proven early literacy programs.

We have seen firsthand the impact of high-quality preschool on children’s ability to become successful learners and readers.

As an expert in early childhood literacy, I am writing to urge the Pima County Board of Supervisors to give more young children the opportunity to experience high-quality preschool. Make Way for Books supports the Pima County Preschool Investment Program proposal that goes up for consideration before the Board of Supervisors on May 14th because we believe that more children in Pima County should have the opportunity to thrive and learn in a community where they can reach their full potential.

Ninety percent of brain development happens in the first five years of a child’s life. The preschool years are the most critical window for laying the foundation for academic success, especially as it relates to language development and future literacy skills.

Children who come from lower-income homes typically begin kindergarten two years behind in language and emergent literacy skills necessary to become successful readers.

In Pima County, one in three children under age five live in poverty, and this puts them at a distinct disadvantage. Once children start school behind, they often struggle to catch up. Research indicates that only one in 10 children who are struggling readers by the end of first grade will ever catch up.

However, high-quality preschool can offer children robust opportunities to develop their language and literacy skills as well as a love for books and reading.

Further, children who attend high-quality preschool perform better throughout school and complete more education. In fact, they are three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to earn a higher wage (National Institute for Early Education).

Investing in preschool is proven to decrease crime and save millions of taxpayer dollars down the road by drastically reducing funds to pay for prisoner incarceration. When more children are given the chance to attend preschool, we become a more educated and thriving community as a whole.

However, currently, only one in five children in Pima County has the opportunity to attend high-quality preschool. We must increase access for more children. The Pima County Preschool Investment Program is the solution to achieve this dire need. This critical initiative could increase the number of Pima County’s 3- and 4-year-olds who are able to attend high-quality preschools by 225 percent.

The proposal would help provide access to preschool for families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, supporting the many hard-working families like those we serve at Make Way for Books that simply can’t afford the more than $8,000 annual cost of preschool in Arizona.

We must urge the Pima County Board of Supervisors to support this measure to begin the path towards a sustainable funding source for our children in need to attend high-quality preschool.

The power to make a bold move to improve our community rests in our hands, right now. Together, we have the power and responsibility to imagine and to create a brighter future for children who deserve more equitable access to educational opportunities we know will help them and our entire community thrive.

Please join us in urging Pima County to make this positive investment in our children.

Jenny Volpe is the Chief Executive Officer of early childhood literacy nonprofit organization Make Way for Books that impacts 30,000 children, parents, and early childhood educators each year in Southern Arizona.