Early Childhood Day at the Capitol gathered hundreds of supporters on Jan. 23 to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood education with state lawmakers.
The Arizona Early Childhood Alliance (AZECA), of which First Things First (FTF) is a member, sponsors the yearly event. AZECA is an alliance of cross-sector partners statewide who share a common goal to ensure that all Arizona children are prepared for kindergarten and on track to succeed by the end of third grade.
About 400 people registered for the event, where many also signed up for visits with their local legislators throughout the day.
AZECA also hosted a legislator panel with Rep. Annalise Ortiz, Rep. Jennifer Pawlik and Sen. Ken Bennett. Arizona State University Professor Chris Herbst moderated the panel discussion. Herbst’s research focuses on the economics of child care and early childhood education.
He spoke of the interconnectedness of child care and the economy.
“You can think of child care as a market that has to work really well because there is a direct implication with the rest of the economy and vice versa,” Herbst said.
Ortiz said that she was excited that the issue of child care was gaining support in Arizona. She is sponsoring a bill in the current legislative session that would provide money from the state’s general fund to the Arizona Department of Economic Security for child care assistance for working families in state fiscal year 2025, which starts July 1.
“We know the pandemic changed things,” Ortiz said. “As we see workforce shortages, we need to make sure that children have stable care.”
Bennett spoke about how today’s parents are raising the next generation of Arizonans.
“A child is 80% of who they are by the time they are 3 to 5 years old. If we’re missing an opportunity to help them, we will pay for it later,” he said.
Bennett talked about how his family was blessed to be able to have his wife stay home with their children decades ago.
“For families who don’t have a parent stay home, we have a societal responsibility to provide an alternative program. Those children are no less important than the ones who can afford it.”
Pawlik spoke of a bill that would help more working families qualify for child care subsidies. The bill would increase eligibility to families whose income is up to 300% of the federal poverty level.
Currently, eligibility is limited to families whose income is at or below 165% of the federal poverty level. This increased eligibility would require about $12 million in funding.
Bennett called the $12 million that would be needed to fund the bill a “rounding error,” compared to Arizona’s $70 billion yearly budget.
Both Pawlik and Ortiz, who are Democrats, vowed to work with Bennett, who is Republican, to find the money to get the bill passed.