Some really disappointing news about the well-being of Arizona’s children came out this week. Our national ranking, which was among the lowest in the country already, dropped another spot from 46th to 47th place. The annual KidsCount Report ranks just three other states: Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico lower than Arizona when it comes to our kids. As a mom, this concerns me. We can definitely do better, but the question is… how?
A lot of people are asking that same question and it all seems to center around money. One of the reasons why we rank so low is because of the high poverty rate in Arizona; 27% while the national average is 23%.Early education is also a factor. According to the report, the majority of Arizona’s 3 and 4-year-olds are not going to preschool and that’s putting them behind. But as all of us moms know, preschool can be expensive. I plan on sending my 3-year-old this fall. Financially speaking, we’ve planned for preschool, but cost was definitely a factor in our decision. Many hardworking families are barely putting food on the table, so how are they expected to pay for preschool? I know there are programs out there for these families, but budget cuts have taken a toll. In 2010, lawmakers dropped the Early Childhood Block Grant that helped low-income families send their kids to Pre-K. Now, the only state-funded program that’s helping these families is “First Things First,” which voters backed in 2006. Much of the money goes to early education, but some is also is funneled to other programs like health care.
So how can we help? For one, you can give directly to the United Way Valley of the Sun. This organization provides scholarships to families who can’t afford preschool. If you are one of those families, you can learn more about those scholarships and apply for one at the First Things First website. There are certain criteria you have to meet in order to qualify. On this same page, you can also look up by zip code preschools or daycare centers in your area that accept those scholarships.
For a better look at Arizona’s numbers compared to the national average, check out this chart. It gives you a good perspective about where our state ranks compared to the rest of the country.