We hear a lot about K-12 education here in Arizona and we know the critical need for funding and upgrading our K-12 schools, but what about early childhood education? Early childhood education provides the tools for kindergarten readiness beginning at birth. Think about this fact: 90 percent of a child’s critical brain development occurs before age 5.
Research shows that children, from birth to age 5, who receive high quality early childhood experiences, benefit from higher educational achievement, improved future employment, crime reduction, and better health. In fact, every dollar invested in early childhood education yields up to a $16 return on investment!
Well then, who provides these experiences? In 2006, the citizens of Arizona passed Proposition 203, which funded First Things First (FirstThingsFirst.org) using tobacco tax revenues. First Things First (FTF) has 28 Regional Councils, including four in Pima County, that disburse funds to agencies that execute each Council’s strategies based on clearly identified regional needs. Two examples: In 2015, the FTF Pima North Regional Council funded agencies that provided in-home parent coaching to 1,042 needy families, teaching parents about their child’s development and their role as their child’s first teacher. Additionally, 5,900 children in Pima North, zero to five years of age, had access to high quality childcare and education and 1,849 low-income children were awarded scholarships to attend these extraordinary early learning environments.
But that’s not all! Each year, First Things First hosts an Early Childhood Summit (summit.azftf.gov). This year, it will be held August 22-23 at the Phoenix Convention Center and only costs $230. There will be over 75 breakout sessions on a variety of early childhood topics focusing on FTF’s funding strategies—early learning, strengthening families, early literacy, health, community awareness, and systems building. Four nationally recognized speakers will detail the importance of early language exposure on the developing brain, the role of the caregiver in early childhood, dual language learning, and the integration of early childhood systems to ensure a person’s long-term well being. Those who attend this Summit will leave with the knowledge that early childhood education and development is the foundation of a child’s future and the future of our country. Early childhood educators, school administrators, and medical personnel should attend. Most importantly, legislators should attend so they fully understand the importance of early childhood development and its impact on our society for years to come.
Finally, what can you do? Call, write, email, or text your legislators to insist that they or their representative attend the Summit. Children who have positive early learning experiences will be our future leaders. If our children are ready for school, then we are all set for life!
Dr. McLean is the retired Superintendent of the Marana Unified School District and was the President of the AZ State Board of Education
Ms. Klipsch has an MA in Speech Pathology and is a Retired business owner
Both are members of First Things First Pima North Council