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Sarah Gassen: Making 'The Preschool Promise'

Sarah Gassen: Making 'The Preschool Promise'

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

I’ve covered public education and children’s issues for more than two decades at the Star, writing for the news pages and in the Opinion department.

I’ve witnessed thousands of hours of meetings: school boards, task forces, “blue ribbon” panels, PTO meetings, bond committees, student walkouts, salary discussions, the Arizona Board of Regents, parent cooking groups, teacher rallies, student election forums, the Pima Community College Governing Board, transportation committees, bus driver gatherings, teacher orientations, coffee klatches of concerned parents, business leaders or taxpayers, and public hearings.

That’s a lot of watching other people do things, and then reporting on the process and results of the discussions and decisions. I have never understood fully how difficult it is to get a community effort organized and off the ground.

Until now.

Welcome to The Preschool Promise.

The Preschool Promise is a growing coalition of Pima County folks (myself included) and organizations dedicated to doing everything possible to make affordable, high-quality preschool accessible to every child.

The effort to help low-income families send their kids to high-quality preschool has been building for years. And yes, in 2017 voters turned down a sales-tax initiative that would have applied only in the city of Tucson.

It’s time to let that election go. Voters rejected that specific initiative, not the goal. I can say that because I heard opponents say it again and again: We support high-quality early childhood education, but not that plan.

Let’s build on what we agree on: Research tells us definitively that children who attend a high-quality preschool do better over the course of their lives educationally, economically and socially. Enrolling children in solid preschool programs helps parents go back to work.

The Preschool Promise is a framework, a community effort by people who see the huge payoff that an investment in high-quality preschool could make for low-income families, for neighborhoods and our overall economic development.

The core group includes people on opposite sides in that 2017 election, along with nonprofit organizations, education and community advocates, parents, representatives of governmental agencies and more.

Please, join the coalition and learn more at

We’ve been meeting regularly for months, talking about what we would like to see as the end result, how we get there, what it would mean for children and families, who would be able to make something happen, and what are the arguments against this particular approach or th other one.

It’s been fascinating to watch a common goal shape conversations among people who haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and who come at the same passion from different perspectives. The existing system of early childhood education has many moving parts — funding sources, elected and appointed office holders, specific limitations, state and federal programs, school districts, licensing requirements.

And that’s before a child ever steps into a classroom.

Figuring out what is possible, and what is probable in our political climate, is its own challenge. Making high-quality preschool a viable option for more Pima County families is a complicated endeavor, but we can learn from other communities’ experiences how to do it.

We don’t have all the answers yet, including a specific funding source(s) or how many families would initially qualify for assistance, and that’s OK. I’ve learned from reporting on what Cincinnati and North Carolina did to create and expand their own early childhood education programs that building the community will and energy for affordable high-quality preschool is part and parcel of finding the money to make it a reality.

Please join The Preschool Promise. We have work to do.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star’s Opinion Editor. Email her at

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