Preschool classroom welcomes learners of all abilities

Ellen Richardson works with a small group of students in her preschool class at Clear Creek Elementary School in Clear Creek, Ind. Richardson leads the class that incorporates special needs students with the help of occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, hearing specialists and interpreters. (David Snodgress/Bloomington Herald-Times via AP)

Early childhood education doesn’t receive the local financial support it should, according to roughly 75 percent of those who responded in a recent community poll, and most who answered said they would support a tax to pay for pre-kindergarten learning.

The poll, which tallied 1,420 respondents, is part of a partnership between the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson’s Strongpoint Opinion Research.

The Star’s Editorial department has made early childhood education a priority this year, and we are heartened to see that community members see the need as well, according to the poll.

The results reflect a slight difference between city of Tucson residents and those who live in unincorporated Pima County in their support of a funding increase — a tax — to pay for pre-K education. Tucson residents’ support reached 74 percent, while 68 percent of Pima County residents who responded agreed .

This difference matters, but both groups indicate strong support for public funding for pre-K education programs.

Interestingly, most of the respondents do not have family with children 5 or younger — this is encouraging, because it reinforces early childhood education as a community issue and investment, not simply an obstacle experienced by individual families.

The Star has made early childhood education an Editorial department priority precisely because of its long-term benefits that sustain children as they enter kindergarten and stay with them throughout the K-12 system and beyond.

Making sure every child has a solid foundation is essential and pays off with higher educational achievement in the long run, which is key to building a strong economy for years to come.

The poll indicates that teacher quality is the “most vital” component of pre-K education, with 58 percent of respondents ranking it first, followed by “hands-on activities that encourage development,” “positive nurturing attention,” “creative and imaginative play” and “caregivers who provide regular feedback to parents.”

Pre-K education is different than child care or babysitting — but it’s definitely not forcing toddlers to sit still all day and listen to lectures, either. The best programs use play to help children learn about their world, so they’re gaining knowledge that is age-appropriate, works with children’s natural development and is fun.

Kids are engaged and active participants in high-quality early education programs — and that requires expertise and teachers trained in how to work with young children effectively.

High-quality pre-K programs are an investment, and we are encouraged by these poll results: Half of all respondents said they would prefer using a “sin tax” – taxes on tobacco and alcohol — to raise money for early childhood education. Arizonans already pay for existing early childhood education with a tax on tobacco, through a program called First Things First.

The second-most-preferred method is a property tax, followed by a sales tax or income tax. Each category of levy has its own rules and requirements, but we are encouraged that people appear open to a variety of public funding sources.

The vast majority — 95 percent — of all respondents said public schools should be allowed to collect county funds, followed by 19 percent for private, 18 percent for homeschooling, and 12 for parochial schools.

We are encouraged at this snapshot of community sentiment about early education, and the opportunities the poll results indicate. Wide access to affordable, high-quality pre-K programs are a necessity in Pima County.