The Tucsonans devoted to getting more low-income Pima County kids into high-quality preschools have a message:
The Pima County Preschool Investment Program, or PCPIP, is alive.
And, after sitting down with organizers last week as they took stock of what’s happened — or not happened, as in the case of county support — I’d say their determination to make PCPIP a reality is alive and well.
Combine that energy with a letter County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry sent to Flowing Wells Superintendent David Baker a few days ago and new research about the multi-generational benefits of preschool, and I’m encouraged — maybe even cautiously optimistic.
Baby steps. Or, more apropros, preschooler steps.
The advocates, for now calling themselves the Early Childhood Working Group but understandably seeking a snazzier and more descriptive name, gathered Wednesday to recap, strategize and plan. No summer off for them.
And, yes, it is frustrating that the Pima County Board of Supervisors hasn’t agreed to fund the requested $4.8 million that would enroll more than 450 low-income kids in high-quality preschools.
The case for high-quality preschool has been strengthened by new research from economics Nobel laureate professor James J. Heckman and co-author Ganesh Karapakula: The positive effects of attending high-quality preschool continue into adulthood and the next generation.
Think of it as a BOGO — buy one, get one — for taxpayers.
Heckman’s research follows the adults who in the 1960s were disadvantaged children attending high-quality preschool in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that is now known as the Perry Preschool Project.
Consider this, from the report:
Attending preschool may not “permanently increase a crude IQ measure,” but “simplistic measures of cognitive achievement prove to be poor indicators of life success.”
Being part of Perry “significantly increased the participants’ employment, health, cognitive and socioemotional skills and reduced the male participants’ criminal activity, especially violent crime.”
All worth our investment.
“Heckman and his co-author found substantial second-generation effects on education, employment, crime, school suspensions and health.”
And, the “wide range of beneficial effects are particularly strong for the male children of participants, especially those of male participants.”
That’s banking on the future.
County officials should heed Heckman’s conclusion:
“High-quality early childhood education emerges as an effective tool for fighting intergenerational poverty.”
Who in Pima County doesn’t have a vested interest in fighting intergenerational poverty?
Huckelberry’s letter to school superintendents asks for answers to financial questions, such as how much districts now spend on preschool education, for how many kids and the monetary value of available classroom space and potential employee salaries.
If K-12 districts can contribute to the PCPIP partnership in these ways, the overall price tag would “certainly reduce the gap in additional funding” needed, he writes.
Huckelberry doesn’t offer support for PCPIP, but his questions are pertinent to the conversation.
Early childhood education is the best investment a community can make in its economic growth, civic vitality and health. However, doing something about it takes long-range vision in a tire-in-every-pothole political climate.
Huckelberry proves the point, writing that he does not see PCPIP as being a “Pima County government program,” but rather a program “proposed to serve children in the Pima County geographic region.”
Publicly funded preschool isn’t a program to serve children.
It’s a program to serve every Pima County resident.
Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star’s Opinion Editor. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Facebook.