Growing Pima County: The case for early childhood education

We in the Arizona Daily Star’s Opinion Department are driven by a single question: How can we help our community succeed?

Rarely have we found such a clear answer, which we share in our special project, “Growing Pima County: The Case for Early Childhood Education.”

Early childhood education, which includes preschool, is the strongest and most productive investment a community can make. Research spanning decades leads to this conclusion; University of Chicago and Nobel laureate economist James Heckman puts the return on investment at 13 percent.

Children who attend high-quality early childhood programs show a lifetime of higher wages, better health, less criminal activity, more educational success.

After Tucson voters turned down a city sales tax to fund early childhood education in 2017, we wrote: “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.”

Confident in our goal, we set to work. We researched publicly funded programs across the country and, thanks to a grant from a group that quietly supports education, visited five states in search of the best ways to make high-quality early childhood education a reality in Pima County.

We’ll share what we found in Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Seattle and San Antonio in the weeks to come. We begin our series in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a look at how their Mecklenburg County Commissioners turned a devastating economic report into the impetus for their own preschool program.