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Report: AZ Out of Step on Pre-kindergarten Programs

December 9, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Despite their budget problems, most states continue to fund early childhood education programs. A new report from the Pew Center on the States says 26 states and the District of Columbia made no cuts in their pre-kindergarten (pre-k) programs. Arizona is an exception, however, according to Pre-K Now project director Marci Young.

"Unfortunately, we had some states that decreased their funding, and Arizona was one of the biggest culprits. Policymakers have not prioritized early learning in Arizona for years, and it doesn't look like it's getting any better."

The report shows the state budget for early childhood programs was kept flat for five years until last year, when it was cut by nearly two-thirds. This year, funding was completely eliminated. The program had been used to provide pre-school and kindergarten for low-income and special-needs students.

Arizona lawmakers have also shown their disregard for early learning through their efforts to gain control of a voter-approved tobacco tax earmarked for early childhood development, she adds.

"As the state's fiscal crisis deepened, legislators tried repeatedly to divert the First Things First resources to fill short-term budget holes."

In rejecting Proposition 302 last month, which would have abolished First Things First, Young says Arizona voters reaffirmed their support for pre-kindergarten programs, which she says have been proven effective by 40 years of research.

"Pre-K helps reduce grade repetition and special education placements. It increases high school graduation rates, reduces crime and delinquency, and leads to greater employment and higher earnings as adults."

The Pew report says more than half of the state's children under age 6 are at high risk for school failure because they come from low-income families.

More information about the report is available at www.preknow.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ