The cost of preschool is one of the largest items in a family’s budget--and especially for a low-income family. Consider these figures: For a family of three, the federal poverty level for 2017 is $20,420; for a family of four, that figure is $24,600. Now consider the price of preschool. In Arizona, the average cost of sending a four-year-old to preschool is $7,398. That’s about one third of a family’s total income if they’re living at or near the poverty level, and after rent, there’s little left for everything else. Sending a four-year-old to a high-quality preschool can be even more of a drain on a family’s budget.
Believe it or not, paying for preschool is not so different from paying for college.
Compare the average cost of preschool ($7,398) with tuition and fees for 2016-2017 at our three state universities: $10,640 at ASU, $10,764 at NAU Flagstaff, and $11,769 at the U of A. At Pima Community College, tuition and fees are actually a lot lower than preschool—$2046 for full-time study!
Given the high cost of preschool, it’s not surprising that fewer than 20% of 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson (a total of about 2500) are currently enrolled in high-quality preschools. By increasing the city sales tax by just half a cent, Strong Start Tucson will be able to provide scholarships to up to 8000 children. Tuition assistance will be based on financial need, with the lowest income families paying only $5 a week or even nothing.
Please help us to get the initiative on the ballot in November and to see that it passes. High-quality early education can mitigate the negative effects of poverty on learning, development, and life prospects. A lack of money shouldn’t prevent children from low-income families from getting a “strong start.”
Carol Weinstein, Ed.D.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education