Strong Start Tucson returns with new proposal for preschool funding

Free preschool coming to Pima County

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Janan Barnes spent her Tuesday morning at Reid Park with her son and grandson as they rode their bikes.

Both kids are in preschool four days a week.

“He’s already starting to identify letters," Barnes said. Her son gets speech therapy. It's how he gets free preschool.

“It’s helped so much with speaking," she said, explaining how big of a step it was for her son. "He wasn’t talking at all before he started.”

It is success stories like these that make former kindergarten teacher Penelope Jacks passionate about this cause. As chair of the Strong Start committee, she wants to get more kids, including those from low-income families, into preschool classrooms.

“On day one, we could see the difference in the children who had preschool and those who didn’t," explained Jacks.

The Strong Start Tucson committee was formed to find a way so low-income families could afford preschool. Voters turned down a ballot initiative to do just that back in 2017.

Pima county is filled with around 27,000 kids between the ages of three and four, but not every family can afford early childhood education.

“More than half of those live under 200 percent of the poverty level,” Jacks said.

That statistic brought the committee to the Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, May 14 to put out a call to action to the county.

The board of supervisors listened intently as one by one, each supporter asked for preschool scholarship program funding to be included in next year’s budget.

"Most of us have that desire in our hearts, but we see different ways of getting there," explained Richard Elias, the chair of District 5 in Pima County.

There's no argument that the county also supports the issue. Though, several questions remain.

"How to fund it and then how much support can be given in the community," said Chuck Huckelberry, the Pima County administrator.

The county didn’t make a decision at Tuesday’s budget hearing, but did say they’ll think on it.

The hopes are simple: so more kids like Barnes' son can grab kindergarten by the handlebars and ride towards success.

“It just boosts his confidence so much," Barnes said.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors hope to have an answer for the public on this issue by the time they announce their final budget plans in June.

If they don’t, they urged Strong Start Tucson to come back again.

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