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Strong Start Tucson's flawed conception undermines noble effort

Strong Start Tucson authors seem to be offering a tone-deaf promise they'll answer questions after voters hand them $50 million per year. That's not a winning strategy or a good idea. Too many of initiative's details are left to be decided later — cue a Rio Nuevo flashback.... Read more»

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Oct 10, 2017, 8:45 am
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Pediatricians, educators, economists, business people, progressive politicians and advocates and a diverse community of Tucson’s progressive, future-oriented citizens support SST.
The establishment doesn’t truly support early childhood education, even when they talk a good game.When it comes to spending money, children and families are always at the bottom of the list. .
Kids are the can that is kicked down the road year after year. Mayor and Council were given ample opportunity in multiple meetings to suggest changes, alternatives and solutions. They offered none at the time or since then. I

Strong Start Tucson was deliberately crafted to be tamperproof. Regardless of the political climate or who is in office, the money cannot be diverted to any other purpose the city might think of. The funds are reserved for the early education of children. There is no sunset because there is no sunset on 3 and 4 year olds.

It is the role of the SST Commission to establish a sliding scale that enables the largest number of children to attend high quality preschool. The cost of early childhood education, like all costs, changes over time. The Commission’s flexibility will allow SST to continue offer children at every economic level the chance to attend high quality preschool.

It will be the job of the City Council to choose commissioners who put Tucson’s children’s interests first and do not have conflicts of interest. This is the proper role of government.

The City and County routinely contract with nonprofits. A nonpartisan, trusted nonprofit will be chosen by the SST Commission, on a competitive basis of expertise, cost, and experience. Tucson’s nonprofit community has a long and respected history. Tucsonans trust their efficiency and integrity.

Nonprofits operate in an environment of transparency. As part of the RFP process for nonprofits to contract with the City or County, they are required to have a current audited financial statement done by an independent accounting firm. Nonprofits contracting with the government are held to ab extremely high standard before they are even allowed to submit a proposal and bid.

The 8% administrative maximum includes:
*Costs the city may incur in tax collections and finance office operations
*Fees charged by the State associated with tax collection and return of funds to the city
*Costs associated with the city-appointed SST commission
*Fees paid to the competitively selected nonprofit agency that will establish family eligibility and issue scholarships.
(FTF’s administrative costs are capped at 10% for central administration of the Statewide office plus 10% of local contracts.)

Arizona has excellent standards for establishing high quality in early education. These standards have been extensively researched, tested. Early education are knowledgeable about these standards and the research behind them. First Things First has created a Star Rating System and considers high quality to be 3-5 stars, national accreditation, and/or Head Start. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Children’s organizations have been at the forefront of advocacy for children and SST. (Casa de los Ninos and Child and Family Resources and have been champions for children in Tucson and Arizona for 40+ years.)  They are respected locally and nationally for their research, advocacy, and services. They have received multiple city, state and national contracts and grants.

SST scholarships will allow poor families to send their children to high quality preschool. All who qualify will receive scholarships that will make high quality preschool affordable, up to the full cost.  Public Schools will have a new funding source to begin or expand high quality preschool programs.

Capacity exists in public schools and in other preschool facilities. They are eager to move into or expand preschool. Once there are kids who can afford high quality preschool, the market will meet the demand. Preschool and childcare has always been a mixed delivery system, using public dollars for qualified providers. Up to 10% of SST funds can be used to support and improve the quality of early childhood education, further increasing the number of high quality preschool opportunities.

When the economy grows, the capacity to fund all community needs grows, and SST will trigger important economic gains. Firms considering Tucson as a location for a start-up or expansion invariably ask: “Will we be able to recruit the well-educated employees we will need?”. If we are to grow Tucson’s economy into the high-tech, knowledge-based, high-wage world of the future, high quality preschool will be a significant part of the solution.

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