Press Room

Sarah Gassen: New research on lasting benefits of preschool

Arizona Daily Star | May 26, 2019

The Tucsonans devoted to getting more low-income Pima County kids into high-quality preschools have a message:

The Pima County Preschool Investment Program, or PCPIP, is alive.

And, after sitting down with organizers last week as they took stock of what’s happened — or not happened, as in the case of county support — I’d say their determination to make PCPIP a reality is alive and well.

Combine that energy with a letter County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry sent to Flowing Wells Superintendent David Baker a few days ago and new research about the multi-generational benefits of preschool, and I’m encouraged — maybe even cautiously optimistic.

Baby steps. Or, more apropros, preschooler steps...

John Pedicone: Our leaders need courage, not political calculation

John Pedicone | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | May 26, 2019

Recently, a plan to provide high-quality preschool to all children in Pima County has been the subject of a great deal of debate and discussion. Interestingly, the issue of whether preschool is important and critical to the success of our community’s children, especially those in poverty, is not where the debate is.

The data is clear and anyone who has been paying attention understands that. So, I will not repeat the data or the emotional pleadings by educators, business leaders and dedicated citizens who created the Pima County Preschool Investment Program that the plan will work and should be funded.

My concern is about where this effort stands and how the political process in Pima County has become a reflection of a far greater problem in the way we approach difficult issues that are placed in the hands of elected officials and policymakers.

The concern begins with the question of what we believe the role of government should be in our lives and why we elect people to represent us...

Richard Elias: It's time to give all Pima County children access to quality preschools

Richard Elías | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | May 18, 2019

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...

Penelope Jacks: Why high-quality preschool? Just the facts.

Penelope Jacks |Special to the Arizona Daily Star|May 5, 2019

The research supporting early childhood education is unambiguous: High-quality preschool is critical for a child’s development, for societal growth and equity. It delivers huge societal returns on investment (ROI)—13 percent. It increases educational outcomes and lifetime earnings. Society benefits from a stable, educated workforce, increased tax revenues and reduced costs for special education, welfare, and crime.

Currently 50 percent of children raised in poor communities start kindergarten unprepared. Unprepared children are 25 percent more likely not to finish high school and 60 percent more likely to skip college.

Given the opportunity to develop an early foundation, children can establish the skills for future school and work success — to be better family members, friends, neighbors and citizens, so we all can live in a society of greater equity and prosperity.

The quality, intensity and duration of the preschool experience have a positive relationship on cognitive development. Seventy-six percent of children attending high-quality preschool achieve higher IQ scores than their counterparts who do not, and 78 percent achieve higher academic performance.

High-quality programs produce high-quality outcomes. Multiple studies show that high-quality preschool delivers improved long-term education, health-related behavior and social and economic outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Despite the cost, high-quality early education more than pays for itself in increased productivity and reduced social spending.

In Pima County, fewer than 20 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds attend high-quality preschool, and more than half live below 200 percent of the poverty level (approximately $50,000 per year for a family of four.)

Seventy percent of those children are children of color. Disadvantaged children benefit the most from a variety of early childhood interventions, and society receives a higher return from targeted investments.

Children who don’t attend high-quality preschool are developmentally behind by a year or more by the time they enter kindergarten.

American families have changed in recent years, but child-care access and quality have not kept up. Two-thirds of children under 5 now live in homes where both parents must work to support the family. Women are nearly half of the American workforce, and mothers are 40 percent of primary breadwinners...

Community Food Bank of SAZ: Supporting high-quality early childhood education

Michael McDonald |Special to the Arizona Daily Star |May 1, 2019

Over the past several weeks, we have observed an unprecedented level of support for high-quality early childhood education from leaders representing a broad range of community sectors, including education, business, law enforcement and nonprofit human-services.

Each has provided cogent, compelling arguments in favor of creating the opportunity for low income children of a developmentally critical age to have access to high-quality preschool education.

And of course, while individual counter examples may be found, plenty of national studies validate that immediate as well as long-term beneficial outcomes result from a community’s early and sustained investment in children, including improved readiness for kindergarten and primary school, better health, higher earnings, lower incidence of future engagement with criminal justice and public assistance systems, and a more highly skilled and educated workforce.

Currently serving 186,000 food-insecure people in Southern Arizona — the majority of whom have jobs and desire to be self-sufficient — the mission of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona incorporates two distinct but interconnected commitments: to serve community members who need stop-gap food assistance today for their families, and to also work in partnership with others to end the underlying causes of hunger and poverty, including our community’s high rates of under-employment and educational under-investment.

Consequently, our governing board of diverse community leaders wholeheartedly supports the Pima County Preschool Incentive Program (PCPIP) because it can mitigate some of the underlying factors of our region’s devastatingly high, persistent poverty, thereby moving us closer toward our vision of a healthy, hunger-free community for all...

Sarah Gassen: Preschool funding is the challenge

From the Growing Pima County series: Improving childhood education series |Arizona Daily Star Apr 21, 2019

Every great idea and good intention runs into reality, eventually.

And by “reality,” I mean “So, who pays for this?”

This is where advocates working to get more low-income Pima County kids into high-quality preschool find themselves. It’s a frustrating place to be, convinced of the utter necessity of the goal but reliant on others to make it happen.

It’s especially frustrating when those “others” are elected officials and government agencies confined by myriad rules, statutes and political realities.

For months now, a tight mix of business leaders, educators, early childhood experts and community members, calling themselves the Early Childhood Working Group, have been working to solve an urgent problem:

Only 24 percent of Pima County’s 3- and 4-year-olds with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $42,000 for a family of three) have access to free or subsidized high-quality preschool.

In other words, the families of nearly 10,000 young kids in Pima County have to pay roughly $10,000 to send a child to full-day, full-year preschool at a high-quality provider.

Other programs can cost less — an average of between $7,920 and $9,240, according to Pima County research, but is “good enough” good enough for your child? ...

Growing Pima County: Utah turned to private investors to fund public preschool

Luis Carrasco |Arizona Daily Star |Apr 21, 2019


An innovative approach. That’s what advocates for early childhood education were missing. They had the data and could show the need, but it would take more than that to convince the Utah Legislature to fund preschool for at-risk kids.

They decided to use the Pay for Success model, where private investors take on the risk and are paid only when a social program succeeds: An ideal private-public partnership that could appeal to conservative lawmakers.

It turned out the idea was too novel for legislators, who rejected efforts to back the proposal. But that didn’t stop advocates. The United Way of Salt Lake and Salt Lake County financed the program themselves and hoped this would serve as proof of concept for the Legislature to step in after the first year.

That worked...

Tucson school board members: We need quality preschool for all Pima County kids

Kristel Foster, Eva Carillo Dong and Matt Kopec |Special to the Arizona Daily Star|April 17, 2019

Years of experience and detailed studies have made it clear that quality early-childhood education is a tremendous benefit as children move through their education and onto lifelong careers.

Those who benefit from preschool experiences perform better not only in kindergarten, but all the way through high school and are three times more likely to eventually enroll in college. They have better health records, improved family relations, fewer experiences with the criminal justice and welfare systems, and earn more money in the workplace.

But far too few children in Pima County benefit from a quality preschool experience because it is too expensive and assistance programs are lacking and diminishing quickly. We have thousands of low-income children in our districts – Tucson Unified, Sunnyside Unified and Amphitheater Public Schools – who would benefit from quality preschool opportunities...

Sarah Gassen: Pima Supervisors should make public preschool a reality

Sarah Garrecht Gassen |Arizona Daily Star| Apr 14, 2019

Last week we published the first installment in our Star Opinion project, “Growing Pima County: The Case for Early Childhood Education.”

In it I tell the story of how Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, decided that early childhood education was the key to economic development — and they built Meck Pre-K, designed to enroll and fund as many 4-year-olds as possible in high-quality preschool programs.

We can build a public preschool system for low-income kids here, at home in Pima County.

We need to — for our economy, for our quality of life, for our survival and growth...

With business buy-in and property tax boost, Charlotte got on path to universal public pre-K

Sarah Garrecht Gassen |Arizona Daily Star |April 7, 2019

Five years ago, the civic and business leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina discovered that they were building a bustling economy on a cracked foundation.

The region, with a population of roughly 860,000, is home to six Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, including Lowe’s and Bank of America, and universities. Charlotte’s business district is packed with high-rises, museums, trendy restaurants, performance venues and hotels. Cranes tower over construction sites and developers try keep up with demand for offices and condos.

By those criteria, the community was revving.

Then came the 2014 research from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley that people in Charlotte refer to simply as the “Chetty report,” after one of its authors.

Charlotte came in 50th out of the nation’s 50 largest regions for economic and social mobility.

Simply put, if you’re born poor and disadvantaged in Charlotte, you are much more likely stay poor and disadvantaged than if you lived in any of the other 49 metro regions — especially if you’re African-American.

This is not how many Charlotte-Mecklenburg leaders thought of their home.

It was a shock, a civic embarrassment. Everyone knew about the crescent-shaped swath of neighborhoods that struggle, but recognizing the true, dire depth and community cost of intergenerational poverty was a reckoning...

Marcia Klipsch: Pima families need affordable early childhood education for all

Marcia Klipsch | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | Mar 31, 2019

I applaud opinion page editor Sarah Garrecht Gassen’s March 10 column on her determination to improve early childhood education.

As community members and business leaders, we understand the importance of a well-educated workforce. However, K-12 struggles, resulting in businesses being unable to find skilled employees to fill their available jobs.

Statistics show that about two-thirds of fourth- and eighth-graders score “below proficient” in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress and 60 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eight graders are “below proficient” in math.

Think about these statistics and what they mean to our community, our state, our country and our future...

Ian McDowell: Pima County should invest in preschool for economic development

Ian McDowell | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | Mar 25, 2019 

We have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the lives of children in poverty in Southern Arizona.

The newly-forged Pima County Preschool Investment Program (PCPIP) would make high-quality early childhood education more accessible to disadvantaged youth, while in turn creating the possibility for them to reach higher levels of educational achievement. Advanced education helps to break familial cycles of poverty and improve our community. As an active member of our community, I firmly believe that now is the time to meet this challenge.

Why would the local executive of a construction company care about this issue? Because the vitality of our workforce is critical to the future of Southern Arizona...

Classroom vs. Crime

Law enforcement officials urge legislators to invest in early childhood education

Kathleen B. Kunz|Tucson Weekly|March 14, 2019

If it's predictable, it's preventable. That was the sentiment delivered by Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp and Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier while they urged legislators to make bigger investments in Arizona's early childhood education system.

They want to see the state's daycares and preschools improve in affordability, accessibility and quality because they argue it prevents criminal activity later on in life.

"Law enforcement officers around the country will tell you the first things we see among those who break the laws, school failure is a big part of that," Sharp said during a Feb. 28 press conference hosted at Outer Limits School. "In fact right now, about six in 10 of state prisoners don't have high school diplomas."

Napier said criminal diversion for youth is often presented with a focus on school-aged children from kindergarten through high school. But he believes the prime opportunity to make a difference in a child's outcome is even earlier than that...

TPD Chief: Pima preschool investment will protect long-term public safety

I take great pride in my role as one of the key community leaders responsible for providing public safety. That’s why I’m proud to stand by fellow law enforcement, retired military and business leaders who are urging the Pima County Board of Supervisors to give more young children the opportunity to experience high-quality preschool.

I say this as a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs who advocate for early learning initiatives that give kids the strong academic foundations they need to succeed in school and avoid contact with the criminal justice system.

We base our advocacy on sound science. A child’s brain develops fastest in the early years, with more than one million neural connections formed every second. That’s one reason reading to children is so important. It’s also why nurturing and stimulating preschool settings are so effective in developing the pre-literacy and pre-math skills children need for long-term academic success.

Children from poor families often don’t have the same opportunities. Their parents often work multiple jobs with low wages, leaving little time to engage in reading and other activities which build school readiness. Without the extra learning support offered in a high-quality preschool, these children are more apt to fall behind as they begin kindergarten. As coursework becomes more challenging they struggle to keep up, resulting in too many kids dropping out and failing to fulfill their potential.

Pima County’s situation is particularly stark... 

PCPIP: Our community comes together for early childhood education

Penelope Jacks & Steve Lynn|| Mar 13, 2019

nvesting in quality early childhood education helps disadvantaged young children, and it is among the best ways to fuel economic growth. Study after study has demonstrated that the rate of return is between eight and 16 times the amount invested, through better educational outcomes, improved health, greater economic productivity and reduced crime.

These benefits last a lifetime. Many communities across the nation, and in our region, are already making this investment. Pima County is in now a position to make such an investment: Pima County Preschool Investment Program.

As of 2017, there were approximately 27,000 three- and four-year-olds in Pima County. Half these children live in families who earn less than $49,000 annually for a family of 4 (200 percent of the federal poverty level) and are at risk for failing in school, largely due to poverty. These are the children who can most benefit from high-quality early childhood education, but who have the least access to it. Cost is the barrier...

Sarah Gassen: Tucson community has come up with a plan to improve early childhood education

 Sarah Garrecht Gassen| Mar 10, 2019

After Tucson voters rejected a city sales tax to fund early childhood education for low-income families two years ago, the Star’s Editorial Board pledged to make affordable early childhood education one of its top priorities.

We knew then — and are even more convinced now — that early childhood education is the most effective economic and social investment a community can make in its present and future.

Shortly after the election in 2017, we issued the call to action in our Star editorial:

“This is a challenge to every Tucson voter who looked at Proposition 204 and said, ‘While I support Strong Start Tucson’s goal of providing affordable, high-quality early childhood education to thousands of kids, I can’t vote ‘yes’ because of how the proposition was written.’

“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.

“Strong Start Tucson, the group that wrote and campaigned for Prop. 204, nailed the need – early childhood is crucial in brain development and education. Investing in a child’s early life pays off for years to come.”...

Arizona law enforcement, military officials call for more investment in child care

By Patty Machelor Arizona Daily Star |Patty Machelo | Mar 1, 2019

More than 70 percent of Arizona’s young adults are ineligible for military service because they are not physically fit, lack basic skills or have a criminal record.

That bleak finding on military readiness was cited by retired U.S. Army Gen. Richard Zahner as he called for Arizona to fund what he says could turn it around for the next generation: high-quality care for young children.

Zahner was joined at a news conference Thursday by Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp and Republican Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, who both said quality early childhood education is an investment that cuts crime... 

Southern AZ Leadership Council: Why we support quality early childhood education

By Rosey Koberlein and Shelley Watson | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | Feb 17, 2019 

Investing in quality early childhood education not only helps disadvantaged young children, it also is one of the best ways to fuel economic growth. Renowned economists have demonstrated through numerous comprehensive, longitudinal studies that the rate of return for investing in quality early childhood education (QECE) for disadvantaged children is between eight and 16 times the amount invested. The return on investment is achieved through better educational outcomes, improved health, greater economic productivity and reduced crime.

Pima County has a relatively high rate of preschool-aged children: As of 2017, there were approximately 27,000 3- and 4-year-olds in the county. Nearly 25 percent of these children are at-risk for succeeding in school, largely due to poverty. While at-risk children benefit the most from quality early education, it will surprise no one that these children have the least access to QECE...


Quigley and Condon: Head Start helps make children citizen-ready

By Kathleen Quigley and Edward Condon | Special to the Arizona Daily Star | Oct 21, 2018

From our different backgrounds — one as former prosecutor, and the other an early childhood education administrator — when we came across young people having done something dumb or really dangerous, there came the thought: “I wish I had the superpower to change opportunities for him. To improve his odds. To help him be his best self.”

From our combined years of experience in law and administering early childhood programs — working with other officials, experts and agencies — we know that a superpower does exist to make a child a worthy citizen, good and successful. The power is early education, with engaged parents...

D.C.’s Universal Pre-K Program Is Keeping More Women In The Workforce

HuffPost Politics|Dave Jamieson|September 26, 2018

Free, universal preschool in Washington, D.C., has made it much more likely that mothers of young children will join the city’s workforce, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The city’s novel preschool program, rolled out in 2009, has increased mothers’ labor force participation rate by roughly 10 percentage points, the study estimates. D.C. women with children ages 5 or younger are now just as likely to be working or looking for a job as women whose kids are in elementary school or older.

The findings make a strong case for putting public dollars toward robust preschool programs so parents can continue working, rather than quit their jobs or go on hiatus until their children reach kindergarten, said Rasheed Malik, the study’s author.

Report Arizona Misses Opportunities to Help Young Parents

Public News Service|September 26, 2018

PHOENIX - About 92,000 children in Arizona have parents who are between the ages of 18 and 24, and a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report highlights the obstacles those young moms and dads face.

Age 18 to 24 is when many people are pursuing a degree or beginning a career, but that's especially challenging for those who can't access affordable child care. Dana Naimark, president and chief executive of the Children's Action Alliance, said millions of federal dollars for child care are available to Arizona but sitting unused, and Arizona's reimbursement program to help child-care providers enroll low-income children hasn't updated its rates in 18 years. She said these are important issues this election year.

Poll finds strong support in Pima County for increased pre-kindergarten funding

Arizona Daily Star| April 22, 2018

We don’t spend enough locally on pre-kindergarten education, according to a recent community poll of Pima County residents, who indicated a willingness to pay for early childhood education programs with a “sin tax” on tobacco or alcohol.

The poll, which tallied 1,420 respondents, is part of a partnership between the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson’s Strongpoint Opinion Research.

Tucson residents answered in slightly higher numbers to questions about approving increased funding for preschool education; 74 percent of city respondents said they would vote to increase funds, while 68 percent of respondents who live in Pima County, but outside of the city limits, agreed.

Ninety-five percent of all people who answered the poll said that funding should go to public schools first, before private or parochial schools, or homeschooling.

Star Opinion: Poll shows pre-k is a Pima County priority

Arizona Daily Star| April 22, 2018

Early childhood education doesn’t receive the local financial support it should, according to roughly 75 percent of those who responded in a recent community poll, and most who answered said they would support a tax to pay for pre-kindergarten learning.

The poll, which tallied 1,420 respondents, is part of a partnership between the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson’s Strongpoint Opinion Research...

Getting to 'yes' on early childhood education

Arizona Daily Star April 8, 2018|Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Five months ago, voters said “no” to Proposition 204, an initiative that would have increased the city sales tax to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old in Tucson could attend a high-quality early childhood education program.

Many who didn’t support Prop. 204, known as Strong Start Tucson, said they agreed with the goal and the necessity of early childhood education, but they didn’t like the plan. The Star’s Editorial Board was in that camp.

After the election, we issued a challenge to all those “I support the goal, but …” voters and organizations:

“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.”

I have some good news:

The seeds of “yes” are planted...

Star Opinion: With Prop. 204 defeated, let’s join for new effort

Arizona Daily Star Nov 13, 2017

This is a challenge to every Tucson voter who looked at Proposition 204 and said, “While I support Strong Start Tucson’s goal of providing affordable high-quality early childhood education to thousands of kids, I can’t vote ‘yes’ because of how the proposition was written:

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.

Strong Start Tucson, the group that wrote and campaigned for Prop. 204, nailed the need — early childhood is crucial in brain development and education. Investing in a child’s early life pays off for years to come...

Guest opinion

Jones: Community crisis of access & affordability

Posted Oct 30, 2017, 2:12 pm Amber JonesSpecial to

We are at a pivotal moment right now in the fight for equity for our youngest learners -- a real opportunity to invest in our most crucial resource, our children.

I have dedicated much of my adult life to advocating on behalf of young children and their families. My journey began in the classroom as a preschool teacher, then director of an accredited child care center and preschool. I have served on the board for both the state Association for the Education of Young Children and the local affiliate, the Southern Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children. I serve on a First Things First Regional Partnership Council and am an adjunct faculty member teaching early childhood coursework to teachers.

Most important of all, I am the mother of two wonderful young children...

Will it be Progress or Treason? The Morning after Prop. 204

Think of the Children
Prop 202, 203, and 204: Vote Yes

Isn't it time we took bette care of Tucson's preschoolers?

Prop 204, aka Strong Start Tucson, seeks to do just that by raising the sales tax by a half-cent per dollar to fund scholarships for 3- and 4-year-old kids.

Another tax increase, coming on the heels of Tucson voters agreeing to a five-year temporary tax to fix more of Tucson's streets, is not an easy thing to swallow. And when critics complain that the local sales tax is climbing too high, we can see their point.

Nonetheless, we believe the investment in young minds is worth it. The cost of high-quality preschool— $800 a month or more!—is beyond the reach of way too many families in this town, especially those who need it the most. The Republicans in the Arizona Legislature—despite professing to love all children—aren't doing so hot with helping those who have actually left the womb. Besides the ongoing war on public education, GOP lawmakers have totally fallen down on the obligation to help families with young kids, cutting daycare subsidies from $82 million a year to nothing seven years ago and only restoring a fraction of that since. It's no surprise that child-neglect cases skyrocketed in the wake of those cuts, among other cutbacks to social services meant to support families on the edge in our state. Essentially, the cuts have just shuffled costs to different agencies while ensuring a great deal of misery for children.

Thousands of kids across the state are just names on a waiting list...

Prop. 204: Planting Preschools in Daycare Deserts

POSTED BY  ON TUE, OCT 24, 2017 AT 8:44 AM

The term “food desert” was created in the 1990s to describe areas where residents don’t have access to healthy, affordable food. With no adequate markets within a reasonable distance, people living in food deserts are more likely to live on fast food and what they can buy in local mini-marts, most of which is unhealthy and overpriced, rather than what you find at most supermarkets. The general health and wellbeing of people living in food deserts would be improved significantly if the residents had access to healthy food they can afford.

It’s time to coin a new term: daycare desert. It describes places where parents have little access to any kind of affordable daycare, let alone high quality early childhood education, for their children. Daycare deserts are deeper and wider in the U.S. than elsewhere in the industrialized world, and Arizona is one of the most parched states in the country. To improve the educational health and wellbeing of children and adults living in daycare deserts, we need to bring affordable, high quality early childhood education within easy access...

Penelope Jacks: Why you should vote for Prop. 204 Strong Start Tucson

By Penelope Jacks Special to the Arizona Daily Star, October 18th, 2017

They never mention children or children’s futures. Perhaps they don’t care about kids, or perhaps because they know Tucson’s voters do care. Out-of-state billionaires, the Koch brothers, are using their Americans for Prosperity PAC, along with local big businesses, to inundate Tucson with misleading, scaremongering mailers, phone calls and commercials opposing Proposition 204 Strong Start Tucson.

The obvious: Virtually all education experts and child advocates agree about the value of high-quality preschool for children, families and the economic strength of a community. Prop. 204 will, very simply, provide scholarships to high-quality preschool to between 6,500 and 8,000 children ages 3 and 4.

The criticisms of Prop. 204 are easily addressed and are, when examined, advantages...

Strong Start Tucson: Striking a blow against poverty

By BISHOP GERALD KICANAS Catholic Outlook, October 2017

Pope Francis has called poverty a scandal, and, indeed, it is - especially when its victims are the most vulnerable among us. Twenty percent of American children live in poverty. It will not be easy to change this fact, but, here in Tucson, we have an opportunity to begin to drive down this scandalous statistic by supporting Strong Start Tucson, a citizens’ ballot initiative that aims to ensure that every child in our community has the opportunity to attend a high-quality preschool.

Why is this important? As child development researchers have produced more - and more detailed - observations about how children learn and grow, the importance of early childhood education has become increasingly apparent. The pre-kindergarten years are not simply an extended playtime. They are a critical period during which the child’s specific experiences influence emotional growth and cognitive development, which, in turn, affect the child’s social adjustment and ability to learn.

Valuable for any child, early childhood education is especially important for children living in poverty. Much as they love their children and want what’s best for them, parents who must struggle to put food on the table also struggle to provide the rich, stimulating environment needed to promote early learning and school readiness. Indeed, Too Small to Fail, an organization that promotes the language development that is so important to success in elementary school, has reported that children in low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words by age four than their more affluent peers - a shocking difference.

Strong Start Tucson aims to reduce this gap by providing a dedicated funding source, generated by a half-cent sales tax, that would enable 6,000-8,000 three- and four year-olds to attend high-quality preschools. As a Christian, I would advocate supporting this project as a manifestation of Jesus’ injunction that we love our neighbors and care for the poor, but one need not be divinely inspired to see the value of helping disadvantaged children get a good start in life.

Studies have shown that the benefits of early childhood education outweigh the costs many times over. For instance, cost-benefit analyses conducted by researchers at the RAND Corp. have demonstrated that the returns to society for each dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education range from $1.80 to $17.07, depending on the specific characteristics of the program. Children who participate in such programs perform better in school, are healthier, are less likely to become involved in the justice system and earn more as adults.

Cities and states across the country are implementing these programs, and doing so here will strengthen our community in many ways. I urge all Tucsonans to support the Strong Start Tucson ballot initiative Nov. 7. It is right and wise to do so.

In Tucson, Proposition 204 started a range war — between business and taxpayers

Jimmy Zuma…blogged for Salon, wrote politics for Technorati and Tucson Sentinel and was DC Correspondent for the John C Scott Show. Now retired, he just can’t stop. Oct 13, 2017

Prop. 204 is about kids and pre-school. In a state well known for starving schools to fund business, taxpayers are demanding a people-first approach, starting with their children. The business community isn’t happy…

Rugrat Referendum 

Strong Start Tucson aims to provide early childhood education to 8,000 preschoolers a year. Why are local Democrats so opposed to it? 

Coyote classroom is full of sensory wonders. Two little girls paint on an easel while children's classical music plays quietly. A curly-haired 3-year-old runs up to Bill Berk, the director of Outer Limits School, and hugs him around the legs.

"Thanks for the the hug," he says, patting her on the head. She leans against his legs and studies paintings hanging on a clothesline.

A trough full of dry beans labeled "sensory station" is equipped with plenty of tools for legume exploration. Kids move from little tables and chairs to tiny soft couches to chalk boaards and bins full of art supplies. There's even a moon-dust station.

Outside, three hens strut about in a chicken coop next to a vegetable garden. Children run around the playground, weaving their way through tunnels and slides.

High-quality preschools benefit families and communities in numerous ways. But out of almost 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson, only 2,500 attend high quality preschool, according to data compiled by Strong Start with the help of the University of Arizona School of Geography and Development using Census Bureau data, and data from First Things First and United Way.

Prop 204—aka Strong Start Tucson—aims to make quality preschools more accessible for families of all income levels, through a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax that voters can establish on Nov. 7....


Stephanie Carl: Prop 204 means child care help for families

By Stephanie Carl Special to the Arizona Daily Star, SEP 22, 2017

I believe in the American dream and in education as the route to success. I believe in hard work, charting a path and making it happen. I served in the U.S. Navy, went to college and became a teacher. The day my first child was born, motherhood became my most important job.

Unfortunately, I abruptly became a single mother. Having stayed home with two young children, I hadn’t been in the workforce for a few years. To secure a stable future for my kids, I needed to return to work. I began searching for child care for my children, who were under age 5...

Preschool Enrollment: U.S. (and Arizona) vs. the World

POSTED BY  ON WED, SEP 13, 2017 AT 9:08 AM

Concern and complaints abound over U.S. students' low scores on international tests compared to other industrialized countries. The favorite culprits accused of causing the disparity are, in no special order: (1) Failing schools; (2) Failing teachers; (3) Failing parents (4) Low expectations; (5) Lack of common curriculum; (6) Too much common curriculum; (7) Inadequate funding; (8) Socioeconomic inequality. I'm sure I missed a few.

But one possible culprit that doesn't come up as often as it should is lack of opportunities for quality early childhood education. The U.S. sits near the bottom of the list when it comes to the percentage of 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in educational programs. Is that one reason for our low scores on the international tests? Maybe so, maybe no, but it should be a larger part of our national discussion, even among the privatization/"education reform" crowd, who are all about charter schools and vouchers for private schools. If they care more about education than privatization, maybe those folks should be more into promoting early childhood education...

How Julián Castro Bet on 4-Year-Olds to Transform San Antonio

The former mayor created an elite pre-K program to make his city’s economy stronger.
By ERICK TRICKEY Politico Magazine August 17, 2017

Jennifer Martinez Young’s 8-year-old daughter, Addison, blitzes through books: Lisa Yee’s DC Super Hero Girls novels, the Rainbow Fairies and Mariella Mystery series. Just starting third grade, she’s reading at almost a sixth-grade level. This year, at Addison’s former elementary school, fifth-graders will read a story she wrote last year, as a model.

Addison’s mother credits her pre-school, San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA North Education Center, for inspiring her love of reading. Addison is still pen pals with Mrs. Ashworth, her preschool teacher. “She says she taught her so much,” Martinez Young, 37, says...

Is the Strong Start Tucson Initiative a Good Idea?

By David Safier Tucson Weekly August 04, 2017

Tucsonans will be voting on an initiative, Strong Start Tucson, which, if it passes, will provide money to make preschool more available and affordable for the city's children. It will be funded by a half cent sales tax. That sounds like a wonderful idea to me, but some people have voiced strong objections to the details of the initiative, including people I generally agree with. So which side should I be on? Is the upside of the initiative greater than the downside, or is it the other way around?...

AAP: All Kids Need Access to Quality Early Education (Pediatrics

by MedPage Today Staff July 31, 2017

Given their role in helping to improve cognitive and physical outcomes, pediatricians should work to promote high-quality early education for all children, said the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a policy statement published in Pediatrics, the authors stressed that quality early childhood education also enhances children's readiness for school. They acknowledged that certain barriers exist for children receiving this type of quality education, such as inadequate funding and staff education. To that end, they emphasized the importance of "multidisciplinary, evidence-based child care practice standards," such as quality rating and improvement systems at the state and federal levels.
Pediatricians are encouraged to make use of AAP resources to educate their patients and themselves about early childhood education, the authors said, and they should also help collaborate with families and early childhood educators, which is particularly critical in helping children with special needs.

Strong Start Tucson: Is one penny on a $2 ice cream cone too much?

Guest Opinion, Penelope Jacks, Tucson Sentinel Jul 27, 2017

Before I went to law school and became a policy advocate for children I was a kindergarten teacher. It was clear from the first day of school—and every day after—which children had been to high quality preschool and which had not. The kids who had had the good fortune to attend a good preschool demonstrated cognitive skills and character skills such as attentiveness, impulse control, persistence and teamwork. They were ready to learn. And no surprise: research tells us that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5...

25,000 signatures gathered to get preschool scholarships on the November ballot

By Angela Pittenger Arizona Daily Star July 6, 2017

Small children hauled four red wagons full of signed petitions into the City of Tucson Election Services office Thursday morning.

The 25,000 signatures were gathered during the past several months by volunteers and parents for Strong Start Tucson, an organization campaigning to create preschool scholarships through a half-cent city sales tax increase...

Strong Start Tucson fills kids’ red wagons with signatures to place preschool education scholarships on City of Tucson November ballot

TUCSON, Ariz. July 6, 2017

Strong Start Tucson turned in more than 25,000 signatures to the City of Tucson Election Services office today. The signatures arrived in style, filling four red Radio Flyer wagons and accompanied by kids, parents and volunteers supporting the campaign to create preschool education scholarships in the City of Tucson. The ballot initiative will be part of the city-wide general election vote set for Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

“We want Tucson to join other visionary cities, counties and states who invest in high-quality preschool as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce poverty, improve the economic climate of their communities and create a path for each child to be successful,” said Penelope Jacks, chair of the Strong Start Campaign Committee.

Jamie Ratner said he is a living example of what early childhood education offers, giving him a lifelong love of learning and the tools to complete college, a master’s degree and law school.

“Everyone deserves that start. I was lucky, my mom was the director of a preschool, and my education and curiosity to want to know more began at the age of three,” said Ratner, Strong Start Tucson treasurer and a professor at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. “It’s served me well and I want others to have this opportunity to reach their full potential.” ...

Victoria Steele: Tucson's children deserve a high-quality early education

By Victoria Steele Special to the Arizona Daily Star  Jun 23, 2017 

We have a wonderful opportunity to show who we are as a community — a chance to demonstrate that we truly care about giving our children a strong start for their future.

Everyone knows that a high-quality early childhood education is the most important factor in giving children the power to be successful.

Children who go to high-quality preschool perform better in school, complete more years of education and become productive members of a more educated workforce. There are 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tucson. Currently, only 16 percent of them attend high-quality early education...

Arizona ranks 46th in US in child education, health and family

By Devin Conley Cronkite News  Jun 17, 2017

PHOENIX — Arizona ranks among the five worst states for children’s well-being in education, health, economics and family and community matters, according to the Kids Count annual report.

Arizona was ranked 46th in the country, the Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says.

Nearly 400,000 Arizona children live in “high-poverty” areas. And six out of ten of Arizona’s three- to four-year-olds are not in preschool, with a child psychologist saying that means their learning is delayed.

Letter: High Quality Preschool


Bill Berk, June 5, 2017
AZ Daily Star Letter to Editor

Congratulations to our local ECE community for ensuring more children attended high quality preschool this year than in years past... 

We will have an even stronger community when we increase enrollment in high quality preschool by 50 percentage points, not just 4...

Pre-K: Decades Worth Of Studies, One Strong Message

KNAU Arizona Public Radio

Some of the nation's top researchers who've spent their careers studying early childhood education recently got together in Washington with one goal ...

Why affordable child care is good for all of us

ANGELA NELSON, Mother Nature Network
May 2, 2017

A new long-term study finds that high-quality child care can help poor mothers and their children lead more successful lives.

Tempe could spend $3 million annually on free preschool for children living in poverty

, The Republic | azcentral.comPublished 9:54 a.m. MT March 28, 2017 | Updated 7:41 a.m. MT March 29, 2017
The Tempe City Council will vote this spring to spend $3 million annually to provide free preschool to 3- and 4-year-old children living in poverty...

A Path Out Of Poverty: Career Training + Quality Pre K

People Laughed When Bill De Blasio First Proposed Free Pre-K. Now He's Expanding It.

Huffington Post Article April 26, 2017

When Bill de Blasio ran for New York City mayor in 2013, his plan to enact a universal preschool program for 4-year-olds was treated more like a lofty...

New York City Will Offer Free Preschool for All 3-Year-Olds

NY Times Article April, 24 2017

The plan would expand Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature prekindergarten program slowly, starting in two districts, in the Bronx and Brooklyn, next year.


Tucson, AZ January 2017 - The Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona releases report. What Arizona Leaders Need to Know.


Strong Start Tucson Announces Broad List of Early Supporters

Tucson, AZ, December 16, 2016– The Strong Start Tucson Citizen’s Ballot Initiative Campaign has picked up early support.  Momentum has already begun to build only one month after the official kickoff event.

“The YWCA of Tucson and Southern Arizona proudly endorses this local effort to provide access to high-quality preschool for Tucson’s families as a means to empowering women who are reentering the workforce, particularly small business entrepreneurs.  High-quality preschool is more expensive than sending your child to college and many families simply cannot afford it. Strong Start Tucson is one more way we can help level the playing field for women in business,” said YWCA CEO, Kelly Fryer.

Local Leaders Launch Campaign to Improve the Lives of Children in our Community.

Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016– The Strong Start Tucson campaign kickoff event will be held this Thursday November 17th, 5:30-7:00 PM at Make Way for Books, 700 N Stone Ave. The event is open to the public. 

Letter to the Editor

I adopted my grandchildren when they were very young. While researching preschools, I was disheartened to learn that high quality child care had become unaffordable for many families with preschool-age children....

Bonnie Stevens | AZ Daily Star November 7, 2016

$50 million for scholarships

Half-cent sales tax sought to improve access to Tucson preschools

...“We’re confident the support is there and past votes by Tucsonans show they’re willing to spend for education and to give every child an opportunity,” she said. “Many have asked us why we are not doing this as a statewide initiative, and it’s because we know Tucson voters are more committed to children than the rest of the state has shown itself to be.”...

By  October 31, 2016


Preschool is $$$$$$$. This proposed sales-tax increase could help Tucson families

 Alexis Huicochea, Oct 19, 2016

A group of early childhood education advocates are looking to make high-quality preschool programs accessible and affordable for Tucson families...

Showing 3 reactions

  • @StrongTucson tweeted this page. 2018-09-27 10:44:53 -0700
  • Morgan Kyrklund
    commented 2016-12-14 13:31:50 -0700
    Hi there! My name is Morgan Kyrklund. I’m a reporter at Tucson News Now. Would like to chat with someone about a story working on. 520-405-4762 or

  • Kelly Griffith
    commented 2016-10-21 08:05:24 -0700
    Great Article! Thank you Alexis Huicochea.