Legislature should support early childhood education, health care – Arizona Daily Star

As the Arizona state Legislature begins establishing funding priorities to build a prosperous community, a solution exists that is both research proven and provides high return on investment: funding for early childhood education, health and development. In Arizona, more than one in four children lives in poverty, our Department of Child Safety is in crisis, and 160,000 children do not have health insurance. It is time for our state to do something different. We urge our lawmakers to invest in strategies that will prevent problems from happening in the first place!

The three strategies that the Legislature should prioritize this session are:

  • Build access to affordable health care for young children.
  • Increase home visitation and family support programs for parents with children birth to 5.
  • Ensure availability of and access to high-quality, affordable early-childhood education and care.

Obviously, ensuring that all young children have access to health and dental is critical. Yet, on Jan. 8 the Arizona Daily Star reported that Arizona has the third highest rate of uninsured children in the country and is the only state in the nation without an active federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Access to high-quality health and dental care results in healthy young children — who then stand a greater chance of being productive adults. Arizona’s legislators have an immediate opportunity to take action that ensures more children have access to critical health care: restore KidsCare, an insurance program specifically for low income children.

Likewise, early-childhood home visitation programs are a proven strategy to prevent child abuse and neglect. These interventions by trained professionals allow a place for parents to learn the best strategies for raising healthy and happy children by promoting healthy child development, greater literacy and success in school. Brains are designed to change; they are susceptible to the adverse environmental effects of poverty but are equally susceptible to the positive, enriching effects of high-quality parent-child interactions, promoted through home visitation. Another key benefit to home visitation programs: They would help lower the burgeoning number of kids being placed in foster care.

High-quality early-childhood education and care are important interventions to ensure that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Yet, only 1 in 3 Arizona children attends preschool, and only around 16 percent are in settings that are high-quality. In Arizona, where almost 25 percent of jobs pay below the poverty threshold, access to affordable, excellent child care plays a vital role in helping businesses and communities prosper. A recent estimate of child poverty’s long-term harm to our economy suggests that poverty costs half-a-trillion dollars in sacrificed productivity and associated costs each year.

On the other hand, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, James Heckman, demonstrates that every dollar allocated to services like early education is an investment with a $7 to $10 return in future school and career achievement and in reduced costs in remedial education, health interventions and criminal-justice expenditures. Right now, Arizona provides a subsidy for child care at 75 percent of the average tuition rate — this is 16 years behind the times! Arizona is the only state in the nation to be so far behind. If Arizona’s children are going to benefit from high-quality care, our state lawmakers must increase current child-care subsidy rates to match current market standards

A commitment to early childhood education and care, home visitation and health care is an essential step in the direction toward greater prosperity for all Arizonans. It is the fiscally responsible way to use taxpayer dollars. Our Legislature has the power to mitigate many of the systemic and structural roots of poverty by investing in these proven strategies, giving children and communities the resources and tools to thrive, not just get by.

If our collective vision for Arizona includes a healthy community and thriving economy, then we must build a firm foundation for the youngest among us, ensuring that our children are happy, healthy and ready to succeed.