The research supporting early childhood education is unambiguous: High-quality preschool is critical for a child’s development, for societal growth and equity. It delivers huge societal returns on investment (ROI)—13 percent. It increases educational outcomes and lifetime earnings. Society benefits from a stable, educated workforce, increased tax revenues and reduced costs for special education, welfare, and crime.

Currently 50 percent of children raised in poor communities start kindergarten unprepared. Unprepared children are 25 percent more likely not to finish high school and 60 percent more likely to skip college.

Given the opportunity to develop an early foundation, children can establish the skills for future school and work success — to be better family members, friends, neighbors and citizens, so we all can live in a society of greater equity and prosperity.

The positive effects of high-quality early education endure.

The quality, intensity and duration of the preschool experience have a positive relationship on cognitive development. Seventy-six percent of children attending high-quality preschool achieve higher IQ scores than their counterparts who do not, and 78 percent achieve higher academic performance.

High-quality programs produce high-quality outcomes. Multiple studies show that high-quality preschool delivers improved long-term education, health-related behavior and social and economic outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Despite the cost, high-quality early education more than pays for itself in increased productivity and reduced social spending.

In Pima County, fewer than 20 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds attend high-quality preschool, and more than half live below 200 percent of the poverty level (approximately $50,000 per year for a family of four.)

Seventy percent of those children are children of color. Disadvantaged children benefit the most from a variety of early childhood interventions, and society receives a higher return from targeted investments.

Children who don’t attend high-quality preschool are developmentally behind by a year or more by the time they enter kindergarten.

American families have changed in recent years, but child-care access and quality have not kept up. Two-thirds of children under 5 now live in homes where both parents must work to support the family. Women are nearly half of the American workforce, and mothers are 40 percent of primary breadwinners.

The cost of child care is a primary barrier to family economic stability. The average cost of full-time, center-based care is about $10,000 a year — higher than in-state college tuition in 33 states, and more than the average apartment rent in Arizona.

A family earning the median household income would spend 18% of it on child care. An individual earning minimum wage would pay about two-thirds (64 percent) of earnings! Not surprisingly, among nonworking poor with young children, 70 percent cite “taking care of home /family” as the reason they are not in the workforce.

Supporting preschools generates political support, and politicians who advocate for preschool thrive. On the 2018 campaign trail, 18 governors-elect talked about pre-K education, funding for the cost of child care and kindergarten.

Early childhood education is a winning issue!

The case for supporting high-quality preschool is clear. Law-enforcement, school board members, superintendents and teachers, business leaders, the two leading Tucson mayoral candidates and the majority of private citizens support county funding of high-quality preschool, the Pima County Preschool Investment Program (PCPIP).

The Pima County Board of Supervisors must demonstrate the political courage to stop looking for ways to say “no” and, instead, lead the way for Pima County to join the growing list of communities that provide for their children and their future.

Penelope Jacks, chair of Strong Start, is an attorney and lifelong children’s advocate. Contact her at penelope@strongstarttucson.org