It is clear that a quality preschool experience yields remarkable benefits for children and for the societies in which they grow and prosper. We have known this for far too long to not be offering it to every family in Pima County. We have failed.
Some dedicated and determined members of our community have pushed this issue into focus and are seeking a way to make early childhood education for all a reality in Pima County.
This will require a significant public investment and finding funds for education in Arizona is no simple task. But this is too important to ignore or even delay any longer.
To this point, we are unable to get seed money for a pilot quality preschool program into the 2019-2020 Pima County budget, a complex and multifaceted set of documents now nearing tentative Board of Supervisors approval.
There are other potential funding sources that can be tapped. Several local school districts can offer valuable resources. Other local governments can search their coffers for funds. The state of Arizona has an obligation to fund public education.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry had his staff research quality preschool and found, “... there is little doubt this investment will pay dividends in the long run, these programs have proven to be effective and beneficial, and there is significant need in Pima County.”
Quality preschool is too important and too beneficial for our community to let another budget cycle go by without meaningful action.
Early childhood education for 3- and 4-year-olds is widespread and those enjoying it, now limited to those of considerable means, perform better through their school years.
More graduate from high school, more go on to college, and their lifetime earnings are greater.
But this is not a phenomenon associated with wealth. A study begun in the 1960s involving 123 low-income African-American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan, follows 58 who were enrolled in the quality Perry Preschool and 65 who did not attend preschool.
The Perry Preschool group not only performed better in their subsequent schooling, they also, into their 40s, had less involvement in the criminal-justice and welfare systems; better health; steadier and more lucrative employment; more stable marriages resulting in more two-parent households; and children of their own who were doing better in school.
A quality preschool education for all children in Pima County is what we need for a healthier and more prosperous future in which we can compete successfully for the well-paying businesses and industries that everyone desires, and for generations to come.
Support for quality preschool for all Pima County children is deep and widespread.
Educators and officials at the University of Arizona, Pima Community College and several local school districts support such a program and are willing to contribute.
Supporters include the Metropolitan Education Commission, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the United Way, the Pima Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Child and Family Resources, Our Family Services, Strong Start Tucson, the Children’s Action Alliance, Catholic Community Services and many more.
With the demonstrated community support for quality preschool education in Pima County, the wisdom of our experts and community leaders, and the available facilities we have for such a program, we can find a way and the means to make this great need a reality.
My commitment to providing quality early childhood education for every Pima County family is steadfast and unwavering. I look forward to working with other dedicated and good-hearted folks to make this happen, and the time for us to roll up our sleeves on this issue is now.
Richard Elías is the chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and represents District 5. Write to him at District5@pima.gov