After Tucson voters rejected a city sales tax to fund early childhood education for low-income families two years ago, the Star’s Editorial Board pledged to make affordable early childhood education one of its top priorities.
We knew then — and are even more convinced now — that early childhood education is the most effective economic and social investment a community can make in its present and future.
Shortly after the election in 2017, we issued the call to action in our Star editorial:
“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.”
It’s time for a progress report — and to look ahead.
Last March, Star Opinion writer Luis Carrasco and I joined with the Center for Community Dialogue, which is part of Our Family Services; the Metropolitan Education Commission; and Tucson City Council member Steve Kozachik at an open community forum about the future of public education.
Participants worked in small groups led by neutral facilitators from the Center for Community Dialogue. By the end of the evening, it was obvious that access to high quality K-12 public education is an essential ingredient in a community’s success.
All good news.
We wanted to drive the conversation toward affordable early childhood education, and how to make it a reality for our local kids.
So last April we partnered with the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to convene The Early Childhood Education Leadership Summit.
We invited education, business, community service and public agency leaders to talk not about the “why” — that’s a settled question — but the “how” of creating a way for low-income Pima County families to access high-quality early childhood education.
Again with the help of the Center for Community Dialogue, people who’d been on opposite sides of Prop. 204 sat together and talked — and listened.
They started to find common ground.
Following the summit, a small group of Southern Arizona Leadership Council members, Strong Start backers, educators and others came together to broach a new effort.
The result is the Pima County Preschool Investment Program, which, according to the plan, “will ultimately provide a significant number of spaces for high-quality, full-day, full-year preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children in Pima County.”
The plan isn’t finished, or funded, yet, but its very existence is a victory for collaboration, persistence and purpose. The momentum gives me hope.
Thanks to a grant, Luis and I have been visiting places that have already been down this road. We’ve reported in Seattle, San Antonio, North Carolina, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati.
We have a lot to share about how these communities have organized their programs, the lessons they’ve learned, how they pay for it all and how their investments have paid off.
Look for our reports later this month.
Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star’s Opinion editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org