Four years ago, Arizonans voted to implement an 80-cent tobacco tax to fund early childhood health and development programs. It was a bold and strategic move that showed an unprecedented commitment to Arizona’s children and our future.

The tax we supported generates roughly $150 million a year, supporting early childhood across our state, organized by an Early Childhood Health and Development Board, known as First Things First. This November, we are being asked to vote on Proposition 302, which would eliminate First Things First and sweep its funds into the general fund in an effort to balance our state’s budget.

It is true that Arizona’s economy is struggling, and that the state needs to find a way to balance the budget. While we may disagree on the best ways to do this, there should be no argument that dismissing our children, aged birth to five, isn’t the best option. Study after study proves that early childhood education and health care in the first five years of life is key to children growing into successful, productive members of society. As a state, we must send a message to our elected leaders that we will not deprive Arizona’s youngest kids of the programs and services necessary to help them begin school healthy and ready to learn.

In its short four years, First Things First has provided early health and education to more than 330,000 Arizona children.  Statewide, the agency has created healthier and safer learning environments and distributed emergency food boxes and emergency aid items. They provide the Arizona Parent Kit to new parents as they leave the hospital, detailing parenting tools, tips, and resources to help foster the safe and healthy development of newborns. First Things First also helps make a 24-hour Birth-to-Five hotline available statewide to answer the questions of parents and caregivers.  These are just a few examples of the vital services First Things First provides.

Expect More Arizona and our partners often talk about Arizona’s children as an investment. Yes, eliminating First Things First and early childhood services would help balance this year’s budget, but at what cost? Quality learning at all stages of the education continuum – birth through career – is an investment in the success of Arizona; eliminating these services is a short-term solution that will not provide long-term security for our children or our state.

We got it right in 2006. Please join me in voting again for early childhood health and development. Let’s allow First Things First to continue the essential work it has only just begun. Remember, as you vote this year, saying yes to Arizona’s youngest children means voting NO on Proposition 302.

Paul J. Luna is President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation, and Chair of the Expect More Arizona Board.

Helios Education Foundation and First Things First are funders of Expect More Arizona.

Paid for by Expect More Arizona – Vote 4 Education, No on 302 – Protect Early Childhood Health/Development Funds.  Major funding by Expect More Arizona, a fund of the Arizona Community  Foundation.  The Vote 4 Education campaign is funded in its entirety by Helios Education Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation through Expect More Arizona and does not use public funds.