Pre K for All
High-quality early childhood education is one of the most powerful tools we have to help more children succeed in school, and even more importantly, in life. All of our youngest children deserve the ability to achieve their greatest potential and to start their education with high quality, no cost learning regardless of location or income. That’s what my Let’s Grow Arizona: Pre-K for All plan will provide; preschool for every 4 year old in the state who needs a spot.
The average cost of Pre-K in our state is beyond $7,000 a year. Imagine what our working families could do with that money if it was diverted back into their pockets. The funds saved would contribute to a more prosperous Arizona. Additionally, many parents could return to the workforce without having to scramble to secure childcare. The nearly 20% of Arizona’s children at or below the poverty level would have access to incredible new opportunities.
Currently, many Arizona families struggle to find decent Pre-K for their children. Just 17% of Arizona’s preschool-aged children are enrolled in quality early learning settings, which is below the national average. Arizona also satisfies just 3 of the 10 NIEER quality standard benchmarks. While 44 states offer some form of state funded Pre-K, Arizona is one of just six that make no investment of state dollars in this critical area.
The data is undeniable: children who attend full day Pre-K have overwhelmingly better outcomes than their peers who don’t have access to such programs. A comprehensive Pre-K experience is associated with better preparedness for elementary school, lower dropout and retention rates, and greater high school graduation rates.
Additionally universal Pre-K has been shown to reduce costs associated with child care, healthcare, and abuse and neglect expenditures. Conversely, these programs increase earning potential and economic well being for the families involved. Simply put – universal Pre-K has well-established, long-term benefits for all of society. For too many families, the high cost of Pre-K has been a barrier keeping one parent out of the workforce. My Let’s Grow Arizona Pre-K program will help more working parents get back to the workforce knowing that their child will have access to high-quality learning in the year before they enter Kindergarten.
My Let’s Grow Arizona universal pre-K initiative will:
- Place a qualified Early Childhood Education teacher in each classroom of no more than 15 children
- Provide developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curriculum linked to state core standards
- Work in conjunction with providers to ensure smooth transitions to Kindergarten
- Connect families to the program through established community services, agencies, and institutions
Over my first term as Governor, my administration will expand this Pre-K effort to enroll 100% of four year olds whose families want them to participate in the program. Initially, voluntary Pre-K will be available to the highest need families, those in the bottom 25% of household income. Each year, we will expand the program to enroll more children in the next quartile of household income until all children whose families want to enroll can participate. The program will accommodate approximately 15,000 children in its first year and expand to 60,000 by the end of my first term.
My Let’s Grow Arizona: Pre-K for All program will follow the current ADE guidelines. Educators may use the traditional bachelor’s degree approach to an Early Childhood Education Birth-Grade 3 or Age 8 certification or follow several alternative pathways to this goal. I will also strive to ensure pay parity between Pre-K and elementary teachers. The existing workforce of hardworking educators will initially be grandfathered in, for several years, until full certification can be achieved. If additional support is needed to upskill the workforce, we will implement those measures as well by pairing with universities and community colleges.
Let’s Grow Arizona Pre-K for All will utilize a mixed delivery model that combines existing early childhood education facilities and community-based providers, and the planned phase in of the program will ensure that infrastructure and resources are in place to accommodate the needs of the children enrolled.
Through an extensive outreach and education campaign, we will empower families to be part of their child’s early learning experience. Parents will be encouraged to be active participants in the program. Access to Pre-K should afford them more opportunity to be involved with school activities as opposed to being burdened with securing childcare and other stress inducing arrangements.
As with my teacher pay and promise scholarship programs, this can also be achieved without raising taxes. Just a small fraction of our nearly $2B ongoing surplus would be needed to bring this to fruition.
The choice here is very clear–we must invest in our youngest learners if we want our state to continue to succeed. Over four years, the cost of the Let’s Grow Arizona UPK plan will reach $450 million annually.
The cost of inaction on comprehensive Pre-K is estimated to be $56B to our nation annually. We literally can’t afford to not fund this essential service. Our children, families, and indeed Arizona as a whole, can only benefit from this investment. All we need to enact this policy is a leader with the audacity to make it a reality. I’m that leader and that’s exactly what I’ll do as Governor.