The following article was posted on Arizona Central on March 30, 2010:

Arizona Can’t Afford to Lose Ground in Early Learning for Kids
By Judy Jolley Mohraz and Paul J. Luna

A dad dropping off his infant daughter at a child care center wants to know when he leaves that the people there will keep her safe and are educated to teach her fundamental skills to thrive.

A mom at her wit’s end because her baby won’t stop crying doesn’t know where to turn and finally calls the Birth-to-Five Help Line, receiving valuable guidance to help calm her nerves and her child.

New parents, holding their baby for the first time, are provided with an Arizona Parent Kit to help them better understand the critical importance of these early years of life and their role in helping their child grow up happy, healthy and ready to learn.

Research shows that children need a healthy environment and high quality learning experiences in the early years, birth to five, to succeed in school and life. In truth, most families need some level of assistance in raising their children; and for many that support comes from the variety of vital services in our community.

Understanding the critical importance of these early years, both Helios Education Foundation and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust have committed to investing in early learning. We believe it is the critical first step to increasing the long-term success of Arizona’s youngest children as well as the economic prosperity of our state.

Investing in the early years—providing our children with the social, emotional and cognitive skills necessary for school success and to be productive members of the community—reduces the amount of money we must direct to remedial efforts.

The return on investment speaks for itself: For every dollar we invest in providing quality early learning, we save up to $16 on costly “fixes” on the back end.  The benefits are even greater when quality early learning is available to Arizona’s most vulnerable children.  We have made significant progress in Arizona over the past five years. Voters approved tax dollars to support early care and education. The state launched all-day kindergarten and integrated early learning into statewide public awareness efforts like Expect More Arizona.

Our concern is that we are losing ground with the state’s current decisions, and the contributions of our foundations cannot begin to fill the enormous gaps.  At a time when most conversations are about cutting costs or redirecting dollars, our foundations stand firm that early learning is not the place where those cuts should be made. Our success as a state in the future depends on the investments we make in our children today.

Paul J. Luna is President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation, and Chair of the Expect More Arizona Board.
Judy Jolley Mohraz is President and CEO, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and a member of the Expect More Arizona Board.