July 21, 2015
Arizona has among the nation's lowest rates of preschool enrollment, but the state is receiving a $20 million U.S. Department of Education grant to help change that.
Supporters of early learning say the grant could be a game-changer, if funding remains in place over the long term. Patsy Rethore-Larson, director of children services with the Homeward Bound Program in Phoenix, provides preschool services for homeless families and those facing homelessness.
"With this grant, we can provide higher-quality experiences for these kids right now," she says. "Hopefully other programs will be able to take advantage of this funding to get better training, get better teachers, get better materials."
Rethore-Larson says there is mounting research linking quality early childhood education to long-term school and career success. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Book, released today, Arizona ranks 48th in the nation for its high percentage of children ages three and four not attending preschool.
Kelley Murphy with the Children's Action Alliance says the four-year federal grant of up to $20 million per year will be used to improve preschool services.
"This is a development grant, and it allows us to do a lot of the infrastructure work that has to be in place before we can really start expanding the number of kids that are getting into these programs," she says. "So it is a game-changer in that sense."
Murphy says a major concern right now is Congress has not approved funding for the grant beyond its first year. She says making meaningful changes in Arizona's early-childhood education system will require a long-term financial commitment.