When the folks in charge of increasing economic development in any geographic area are asked what kinds of factors would make them more successful in their work, the traditional answers have included: good quality of life, available workforce, preferable local tax structure and business friendly governments.
Now, however, more and more economic developers are recognizing the significant impact of having a network of Quality Early Childhood Education opportunities in their area. Not only will such a network be critical in the development of the workforce of the future, but it is also one of the things that business and industry representatives look for in choosing a location for relocation or expansion.
For more than a decade, the value of QECE has been recognized as a critical investment that communities can make in their economic future. Studies by Nobel Laureate in Economics, Dr. James Heckman, and confirming studies by at least two regional offices of the United States Federal Reserve, place the return on $1 invested in QECE at somewhere between $12 and $17.
These savings are realized over time as more students move from QECE settings into kindergarten, through elementary and secondary school graduation, and into either post-secondary education or job training programs. Communities save resources when these students land in the workforce as taxpayers rather than landing in the criminal justice/penal system as an inmate. Children who complete QECE before K through 12 are more likely to graduate, less likely to drop out of school prematurely and more able to become contributing members of society.
There is no legitimate argument with these facts. But sadly, Arizona has not seen fit to fund QECE at the state level. And that is why those of us who understand the great benefits to be derived from providing QECE opportunities, especially to those children in lower income families, have formed The Preschool Promise (thepreschoolpromise.org). This coalition is open to anyone who believes that QECE is critical for educational success. We are working with all local governmental and private funders to help ensure our next generation of workers and leaders gets the kind of school readiness that they, and we, deserve.
In 2006, a citizen-lead initiative was passed by the voters and it created First Things First. FTF is funded by an $.80 per pack tax on tobacco products which raises about $120 million per year. Much of this money is spent supporting a growing network of early childhood providers who have agreed to be evaluated and assisted in their activities so that they can earn a quality rating from FTF. FTF rates providers from 1 to 5 stars with a “quality” designation awarded to providers with at least 3 stars. These providers have made sure that their activities are geared to the cognitive and social/emotional development of children in their care. And they have employed people certified in early childhood development as their staff. Quality programs are not inexpensive. In fact, full tuition for a QECE slot can be as much as $800 per child/per month.
The Preschool Promise believes that this system of QECE opportunities needs financial support to serve those children who need it most. Right now, in Pima County, there are approximately 16,000 3- and 4-year-old children who could benefit from the kind of QECE opportunities we are trying to fund. And sadly, only 20 to 25 percent are currently in QECE slots. We know this community can do better than that for our children. Our coalition includes QECE providers, QECE advocates, FTF representatives, business representatives from Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, school administrators and others who want to be a part of this critical work.
We would encourage everyone who cares about this very important issue to go to our website, thepreschoolpromise.org, and join the coalition. We need your voice to join with ours in support of QECE for every child in Pima County.
More and more businesses are recognizing that their current workforce requires QECE opportunities for their young children, and they also know that the company’s future workforce can be found in those same QECE slots. Site selectors, chambers of commerce, business development consultants and economic development experts all now look for the level and availability of (Quality Early Childhood Education) opportunities in the communities they represent. They know that any investment in providing this critical human development tool is truly money in the bank.
John Pedicone and Steve Lynn are Southern Arizona Leadership Council members of The Preschool Promise Steering Committee.