Strong Start Tucson: What’s New?

Strong Start Tucson is alive and well. There is a role for everyone who wants to help.

It is not unusual for a game-changing, visionary, citizens' initiative like Strong Start Tucson—Prop 204 not to pass the first time around. Other communities have had to repeat their efforts as often as three times; they persisted and they and their children eventually won. We are persisting, too!

The defeat of Prop 204 at the polls in November was not the end of the road, but just a bend in the road. The road to change continues. Strong Start Tucson volunteers have been meeting with community leaders, education leaders, business leaders and public opinion leaders. Our listening tour began right after the November election and is continuing throughout the spring. The good news is that there is broad agreement that access to high quality early childhood education is vital for the future of our children, public education and our community.

The challenge is to design and identify funding for an early childhood education program that will garner support across all sectors of our community-- business and political leaders, early education experts, K-12 advocates, and citizens of all persuasions. There are lots of variables, and lots of ways a program could be designed, administered and funded, What is not up for debate is that whatever it looks like, the plan must a) include a sufficient number of children that the future of our community can measurably and substantively be enhanced; b) must support only high quality early education, because we know that only high quality early guarantees a meaningful return on investment; c) we must proceed quickly.

Here is something important you can do right away—MONDAY March 26.

Join a community forum on the future of public education in Tucson & Pima County, hosted by Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik and the Tucson Metropolitan Education Commission. Sarah Gassen, of the Arizona Daily Star, will moderate a panel discussion preceding the community conversation. In November, Sarah Gassen wrote in the Arizona Daily Star, “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.”  

Penelope Jacks, chair of Strong Start Tucson, will be on the panel along with other education experts. Catherine Tornbom of the Center for Community Dialogue, a program of Our Family Services, will lead all participants in a facilitated community conversation. She will prepare a report on expressed community priorities, that will be shared with the media, citizens, and leaders. The forum is an ideal opportunity and venue for YOU to participate and elevate the issue of access to high quality early childhood education.

Here are the event details:

6:00-8:00 PM
Randolph Golf Course, Copper Room
600 S Alvernon Way (Plenty of free parking)

See you Monday!

Want to come to the forum prepared with the facts about high quality early childhood education? Review the "Early Education Fundamentals—What we all agree on" fact sheet on our SST Home Page 

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NYC Makes Pubic Pre-K Universally Available

I recently read a New Yorker article (“The Lessons of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K Initiative,” Rebecca Mead, Sept. 7, 2017) describing how Mayor de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promise to make public pre-K universally available to all four-year-olds in New York City. The scale of this initiative is nationally unprecedented, and it points to the recognition that high-quality preschool can have “long-term positive outcomes on children’s future academic and even post-academic lives.”

I couldn’t help but compare this with Tucson’s approach to expanding pre-school. On November 7, 2017, voters in the city of Tucson will consider Proposition 204, Strong Start Tucson, authorizing a half-cent sales tax to fund scholarships for 8000 3- and 4-year-olds to attend high-quality preschool programs.

In contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s initiative, Strong Start Tucson was initiated by educators and advocates for children and would channel funds to low-income families who may not be able to afford the cost of high-quality preschool. (In Pima County, the median cost is $7200.) Although universal access is a worthy goal, SST is a significant start. It will provide 8000 children with the funds to attend high-quality preschool. It will also help to alleviate the “unprecedented workforce crisis” that we are experiencing today by allowing parents to participate in the labor force. (See the report by the Center for Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Childcare.)

Unlike Mayor de Blasio, our mayor has not made universal preschool a priority. In the absence of such leadership, Tucson voters must show that we support giving our preschoolers the opportunity they deserve—to start off in an environment that will nurture their academic learning, emotional well-being, and social/behavior skills.

Carol Weinstein, Ed.D.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education

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An Ounce of Prevention

On September 6, 2017, an article on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star broadcast the disappointing news that TUSD and Sunnyside students performed well below the state average on the AzMERIT, the state’s standardized test of English language arts (ELA) and math. Statewide, 39 percent of students passed the ELA portion of the test administered last spring, while 40 percent of students passed the math portion. For TUSD, the comparable figures were 28 and 29 percent respectively; in Sunnyside, which scored the lowest of any of Pima County’s nine major districts, the percentages were 23 and 27.   

Obviously, there are many possible reasons for these results (e.g., a high proportion of English language learners, a lack of resources, the possibility that curriculum is not aligned with the test).  But another significant factor may be the lack of access to high-quality preschool. Studies have shown that enrollment in high-quality pre-K programs can improve children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills, but only 16% of Tucson’s three- and four-year-olds attend high-quality early education. Those whose families cannot afford preschool may be lagging behind before they even start. And then remediation becomes necessary.

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Pediatricians say, Vote YES on prop 204

As pediatricians, we know about the importance of early childhood education on children’s academic achievement and health. Early brain and child development research demonstrates that high quality early childhood education confirms lasting positive effects such as greater school success, higher graduation rates, lower juvenile crime and other benefits. Children attending these programs have better math and language skills, interpersonal relationships and improved behavior. We see in our work every day the impact that this has on a child’s wellbeing.

We support Strong Start Tucson because it will provide many more children in the Tucson area with the high quality programs that have been found to be so effective. Let’s give our children the best start in life we can provide by voting YES.

Eve Shapiro MD, MPH                                                                
Gretchen Hull, MD, FAAP Vice President, AZ Chapter of the Arizona Academy of Pediatrics


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Ready for Kindergarten: Preschool as a Spring Board to Success

It hardly seems possible that we are in the midst of transitioning from preschool to kindergarten with our oldest child.  How did that curious little infant we had 5 and a half years ago move so quickly through toddlerhood and preschool?

Yet here we are with a rapidly approaching “first day of kindergarten” and a host of emotions that come along with that. We have the usual parents’ concerns: will the teacher will be a good fit for Maya? Will she easily make friends? Will the rigorous academic expectations of kindergarten overwhelm her? And then there is the excitement of shopping for school supplies, building new friendships, going on field trips, and most important, the continued love of learning new things.

Through this important transition in Maya’s life, there is one thing that provides me with confidence: her experience attending a high quality preschool... 


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Graduation, “crossing over” from preschool to kindergarten

A few weeks ago I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from preschool.  Parents, siblings, and grandparents chattered excitedly as the graduates entered the room and lined up on one side. The head teacher explained that the children were “crossing over” from preschool  to kindergarten, and so today, they would literally cross over a bridge—actually, a wooden rocking boat turned upside down.  As each child’s name was called, he or she walked to the bridge, walked over the bridge, hugged or shook hands with the head teacher, and sat down on the other side of the room. Their faces beamed, and cellphone cameras clicked...

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Something we can all agree on….Voters united around quality Early Childhood Education

I can often be a political junkie and stay very connected to the conversations in Washington. However this year it has been hard to stay connected and encouraged when everything seems so polarized and motivated by fear, hate and party success at the expense of what is good for America, and what is good for our children and families.

So I was happy to read some positive news – The First Five Years Fund’s 2017 national bipartisan poll found that all political parties agree on the importance of quality early childhood education and making it a priority... 

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Attending Preschool: It’s Not Just the Kids who Benefit

The Department of Health and Human Services says that child care costs should be about 7% of a family’s income. But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire shows that on average, poor families spend almost 20% of their income on child care. For some families, the cost is prohibitive. Mari Villaluna, for example, a 36-year-old career counselor, tutor, and single mother, put her monthly take-home pay, about $3000, on one side of a sheet of paper and then listed her monthly expenses on the other side. When she factored in the $2500 she expected to pay for child care, she realized that she’d be behind by $15 a month. No matter how she calculated, she concluded that she’d always be “in the negative,” so she dropped out of the work force and stayed home to care for her daughter.*

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Strong Start Tucson: A Locally Supported Program for Tucson Kids

U.S. policy on the education of young children is at odds with both public opinion and our growing understanding of the best ways to help kids succeed in school. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the First Five Years Fund during the 2016 presidential campaign, 90% of voters agreed that Congress and the next president should work together to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable to low- and middle-income families. First Five Years And detailed, up-to-date research shows that properly run early childhood programs can have "significant and consequential effects into the middle school years."  Other studies have found beneficial effects on school completion, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and other important measures of well-being. Yet despite both strong public support and a sound empirical foundation, policy makers have not acted to establish the needed programs. And, at the federal level, there is little hope that they will do so during the current administration.

At the state level, the picture is complex...

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Raising the sales tax to provide a preschool education for about 8000 more 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson may strike some people as unnecessary and even infuriating. But enabling more children to attend high-quality preschools is a wise investment that can prevent more expensive problems later on.  Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Preschool fosters social and emotional development: Young children need to develop empathy, learn to control their impulses, and manage their anger and frustrations—and that’s what happens in a high-quality preschool where children feel secure and cared for and where they’re taught the social/emotional skills that will help them to succeed in school and in life.
  • Preschool promotes language and cognitive skills:  Preschool teachers help children stretch their vocabularies by reading aloud and talking with them during activities. In addition, young children’s cognitive skills are strengthened when they engage in a wide range of hands-on activities that challenge them to observe closely, ask questions, and solve problems.
  • Preschool teaches children to be competent and to feel competent: As children set the table at snack time, feed the goldfish, and put materials away in the proper place, they not only develop new competencies, they develop an image of themselves as competent people who are able to take care of themselves and their environment.
  • Preschool prepares children for kindergarten: Kindergartens are becoming the new first grade, so it’s more important than ever to prepare children for the academic demands they will face. But this doesn’t mean teaching early literacy and math skills through mind-numbing drills. Teachers in high-quality preschools know how to introduce skills in the context of activities that are engaging and meaningful. Children also learn the behaviors required to function successfully in kindergarten, such as listening while others are speaking, cooperating with peers, and following directions.

By supporting Strong Start Tucson, we can make a difference in the lives of 8000 children who otherwise would not be able to afford preschool. This is not only the humane thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do:  If we pay now so children can reap the benefits of attending high-quality preschool, we won’t have to pay more later on for interventions to remediate the problems.

Carol Weinstein
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education


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