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2011, No. 8

Arizona Group Fills Gap In Funding, Coordination

This is the second in an occasional series on state Early Childhood Advisory Councils.

Designated as Arizona’s early childhood advisory council (ECAC) in 2009, the agency known as First Things First faced challenges a year later when lawmakers called for a public referendum to repeal the organization and return its early childhood dollars to the state general fund.

But thanks to support from many groups — including the Arizona School Boards Association, an early opponent of the referendum — voters soundly rejected the move. As a result, First Things First is still at work seeking greater coordination of early care and education.

"The school boards were one of our strongest supporters," said Rhian Evans Allvin, chief executive officer at First Things First. "They’ve provided valuable support on issues such as training and governance. They’ve been extraordinarily helpful."

Support from the education community is key for the organization, since recent state-level budget cuts have left her organization as one of the few consistent, well-funded early childhood programs in the state. "We still see ourselves as one piece of a large system," she told Pre-K Primer. "But to some degree, we are the only game in town."

The Role of ECACs

First Things First is another of the state-designated ECACs that grew out of 2007 Head Start legislation to promote greater coordination within the early childhood sector. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 provided financial support for this system, although states are at different levels in the coordination process.

"No state ECAC may be doing everything well, but that’s to be expected," said Rachel Demma, former early childhood specialist at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Key goals are to promote more holistic services and broader coordination among existing and new programs for children from birth to age 8. Many states have ambitious plans but face challenges due to state budget cuts, she told Pre-K Primer.

In Arizona, former Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) designated First Things First as the ECAC, a position re-affirmed by current Gov. Jan Brewer (R). The organization was created by a 2006 ballot initiative in which voters supported a new, long-term early childhood and child health initiative funded by proceeds from state tobacco tax revenue.

Since that time, the organization has overseen the disbursement of $130 million to $170 million a year in tobacco revenue for a variety of services, including local child and family councils, pre-k scholarships for low-income children, quality improvement programs and tuition support for early childhood workers to obtain degrees and credentials.

With its designation as an ECAC, the organization is helping to build a governance system that promotes coordination and effective programming. First Things First supports 31 regional partnership councils, 10 of which are controlled by Indian tribal governments, Allvin said. Each council has members including a parent, child care provider, early childhood specialist, business leader, foundation representative, school leader and faith-based representative.

"Diverse stakeholders have to get together at the local level," she said. "Just pushing out programs from the state level isn’t going to change outcomes for young children."

Recent Council Work

The organization’s work has taken on added importance as budget cuts affect state early childhood programs. State lawmakers have zeroed out an Early Childhood Block Grant as well as subsidized child care and state support for home visiting and quality.

"We never intended to be the only game in town," she told Pre-K Primer. "But in many ways, we are right now."

Recent accomplishments include the awarding of 9,000 pre-k scholarships in 26 districts to help low-income children access quality early childhood programs. Its work also has led to home visiting programs, family resource centers and 700 scholarships for early childhood staff members.

A new child care quality improvement rating system has attracted the participation of more than one-fourth of the state’s 2,700 licensed child care centers.

By providing technical assistance to regional partnership councils, it promotes effective use of tobacco dollars while promoting the ECAC goals of coordination.

"You may not get your best ideas when things are going well," Allvin said of working at a time of state cutbacks in early childhood funding. "You have to use it as an opportunity."

More information about First Things First, the Arizona ECAC, is available at www.azftf.org.

Around the Nation

Pre-K for All 4-Year-Olds
After court ruling, N.C. governor develops plan.

N.D. District Moving Ahead
Superintendent unveils plan for pre-k.

District Links Pre-K, Savings Accounts
Jackson wants families to plan for college.

More Attending Long Island Programs
Pre-K enrollments up despite wait lists

News Briefs

Pre-K Reaps Savings As Business Strategy

High-quality pre-kindergarten provides lifetime benefits for children and families, particularly those with low incomes, the Pew Center on the States says.

In a new research brief, the center says pre-k can reduce special education placements by nearly 50 percent through second grade while reducing retention rates by 33 percent through eighth grade. As a result, pre-k can reduce per-child costs by $3,700 over the K-12 years.

For every $1 invested, the nation also can reap gains of $2 to $11 in reduced crime and criminal justice costs.

"These benefits from investments in young children accrue to the entire community," said the brief, Attracting, Developing and Maintaining Human Capital: A New Model for Economic Development.

The issue brief summarizes findings from a new book by economist Timothy Bartik called Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development.

Bartik makes the case for a comprehensive model that includes business incentives and high-quality pre-k to build short- and long-term human capital.

America’s global competitors understand the link between business incentives and quality early childhood programs, he argues.

Business incentives alone may prompt the private sector to change the location of their operations but do little to improve workforce preparation.

Pre-k provides short-term dividends for workers who seek quality services for their own children, the brief notes. By providing a foundation for young children, it also can generate long-term economic gains.

"Over the longer term, effective early childhood programs enable children to become more creative, adaptable, team-ready employees," it said.

The full brief is online at www.partnershipforsuccess.org.

Bartik also has a web site at http://investinginkids.net/about/.

Maryland Shows Major Progress

Kindergarten readiness in Maryland has increased substantially in the past decade as policymakers have expanded pre-k and early childhood programs, says a new study from the state Department of Education.

For the 2010-11 school year, 81 percent of children entered kindergarten fully ready to learn, up from 49 percent in the 2001-02 school year, the state reports. The 81 percent rate for 2010-11 also reflected a small gain from the previous year.

"The data demonstrate that creating a streamlined birth-to-kindergarten continuum of support for young children measurably improves school readiness," said Getting Ready: The 2010-2011 Maryland School Readiness Report.

The report is based on the Maryland Model for School Readiness, administered to kindergarteners each November to assess readiness in language and literacy, mathematical thinking, social and personal development, and scientific thinking.

The state’s early childhood system includes public pre-k, Head Start, child care and accredited early childhood programs. Maryland also has rolled out new pre-k curricula and established credentials for early care and education professionals.

In this system, the state has realized gains among subgroups. Seventy-six percent of African American children were fully ready for kindergarten in fall 2010, up from 37 percent in 2001-02.

Also, 70 percent of Hispanic children were school ready, an increase from the 2001-02 rate of 39 percent.

For 2010-11, 79 percent of kindergarteners attended a formal early learning program in the year before starting school. More than half attended public pre-k.

Child Poverty Up, Study Notes

The number of children residing in low-income families grew by 7 percent in 2009 as a result of the challenging economic climate, the new KIDS Count Data Book reports.

With this increase, 31 million youngsters — or 42 percent of the nation’s children -- lived in a low-income family, defined as living in a household with an income less than twice the poverty line, or $43,512.

As a result, the official child poverty rate increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2009, said the Annie E. Casey Foundation, responsible for the KIDS Count project. "The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s," said Laura Speer, the foundation’s associate director for policy reform.

Nearly 8 million children in 2010 lived with a parent who was unemployed, double the number in such households back in 2007.

In addition to increases in child poverty, the percent of babies born with low birthweight also has increased since 2000, the report said. More information is available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org

We gratefully acknowledge The Pew Charitable Trusts for its support of our work related to pre-kindergarten. The views expressed are those of the Center for Public Education and not necessarily those of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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