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Pima County job fair seeks teachers & staff for free pre-school program

Pima County will host a job fair Thursday for early education teachers and staff as officials work to expand a program offering free pre-school to low-income families. A shortage of workers has slowed the growth of the pilot program in its first two years.

The fair will be at the Kino Event Center from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday. Companies and nonprofits that provide early education will looking to fill more than 100 positions such as preschool teachers, assistant teachers, assistant directors, cooks, van drivers and summer extended-care educators, according to county officials.

These pre-school providers are “in desperate need of teachers, assistant teachers and staff in general,” according to the county.

With the Pima Early Education Program Scholarships, or PEEPS, the county pays schools and pre-K providers to enroll low-income students. The scholarships allow parents to enroll kids in early education that’s rated “high-quality,” a standard set by First Things First, Arizona's early childhood education agency.

The county has struggled to enroll as many students as desired, however, because of a shortage of early education teachers and staff that has limited the number of pre-K classrooms, Nicole Scott, the PEEPS program manager said.

“One of the biggest challenges in early childhood programs right now is workforce shortages,” Scott wrote in a press release. “There is a huge staffing shortage for early childhood educators across our nation and we are definitely seeing that in Pima County.”

The program also pays private early education providers that are rated below “high-quality” to improve their classrooms and get to the high-quality standard.

Families qualify for free pre-K if their annual income is less than twice the federal poverty level, a marker set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For a family of four, that would be a yearly income at or below $53,000 in 2021, or $55,500 in 2022.

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PEEPS began last summer with $13 million for its two pilot years.

The goal of the program was to enroll more than 1,200 kids in free preschool by the end of the 2021-2022 school year in May. As of March 31, the number of students participating was a little over half that, at 685 kids. That was an increase from 567 kids enrolled in February.

Despite the slow start, Pima County laid out a plan to spend more than $30 million in federal COVID relief over the next three years to expand PEEPS through a series of contracts with school districts and partnering jurisdictions.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve spending $1.3 million in federal COVID relief to fund programs in the Sunnyside and Sahuarita school districts. Supervisor Steve Christy, a Republican, voted "no" because of the cost. The board also extended contracts with the city of Tucson and town of Marana by one year, with Tucson adding more than $1 million to PEEPS funding, and Marana contributing just over $142,000.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said Tuesday, during budget discussions, that she would like to put another $1 million towards PEEPS “to return the favor” of the county forgiving $5 million owed by the city for animal care services. She called the relief a “wonderful olive branch and a commitment to partnership” from the county, which is suing the city for raising water rates.

The county encourages job-seekers planning to attend the May 12 fair to “dress professionally and to bring plenty of resumes.”

“There may be opportunities for on-the-spot interviews and hiring at this event,” Scott said, saying the county wants to work with job-seekers and private employers to “combat the shortage of early childhood education workers.”

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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courtesy of Pima County

What, where & when

  • Pima County PEEPS job fair
  • Kino Events Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way
  • Thursday, May 12, 2-5 p.m.