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The Undeniable Value of Quality Early Learning

by Kelley Murphy, Director of Early Childhood Policy, Children’s Action Alliance
Quality Early Learning classroom with preschool students watching teacher

There is a wealth of research demonstrating the long-term advantages of high-quality early learning experiences in a child’s earliest years. Children with access to quality early learning opportunities are more prepared for kindergarten. They have increased vocabulary, better language, math and social skills, and more positive relationships with classmates. And, as they go forward in school and life, they are less likely to need special education services or be held back a grade and are more likely to graduate and go on to college.

In fact, multiple studies show that quality pre-K programs generate a return on investment of seven (7) to ten (10) dollars for every dollar invested. The benefits to communities include decreased use of welfare and social services, remedial education, and job re-training.

The question for parents and educators becomes, then, what does quality early learning look like and how can we achieve it?

What does quality look like?

Quality child care and preschool programs build on basic health and safety to include:

  • Teachers with training specific to working with infants, toddlers and preschoolers
  • Limited teacher/child ratios and overall group size
  • Learning environments that nurture the emotional, social, language and cognitive development of every child
  • The use of ongoing assessments to tailor instruction/learning to the specific needs of children
  • Ongoing exchange of information between teachers and parents about the child’s development and learning progress
  • A mechanism to measure the program’s quality, like programs that have earned national accreditation, meet Federal Head Start Standards or have earned a 3, 4, or 5-star rating from Quality First- Arizona’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.

HB 2125 – Case for Support

Arizona state legislators are considering a bill this session (HB 2125) that would require the state to allocate a greater amount of federal child care dollars to quality early learning programs.

The proposed legislation is an effort to move Arizona toward the federal requirements to improve child care quality. The Department of Economic Security (the state agency that administers the grant) would expand its tiered system of reimbursement to increase funding for providers with higher levels of quality.

This bill is just a first step. Additional support and resources are needed to help other providers reach a higher level of quality. Over time, the goal is to eventually require all early learning programs to align to quality minimum ratings in order to receive public (grant) dollars.

Currently, just 24 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Arizona are enrolled in a quality early learning setting. As outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, the state’s goal is to reach 45 percent by 2030. By linking more low-income children with high-quality early learning programs we can help close the achievement gap that leaves so many kids behind.

Note: This bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate Rules committee and then will move to a full vote by the Arizona Senate. Email your Senators today to let them know to vote YES on HB 2125.