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Stauffer: Support for Prop. 204 in Tucson

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Guest opinion

Stauffer: Support for Prop. 204 in Tucson

Providing scholarships for 8,000 three- and four-year-olds who are not currently in quality preschool will, in time, improve high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. This is the opportunity before Tucson voters with Prop. 204: Strong Start Tucson. Prop. 204 will not sunset as this is not a pilot or a trial. Years of research shows that children who attend quality preschool are four times more likely to graduate from high school and 40 percent less likely to need supplemental education once they are in the K-12 system.

The funds will be administered by a SST commission of early childhood education experts appointed by the mayor and City Council. They will 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. To put dollar amounts in the initiative language would lock the scholarship rates into the current economic circumstances. If other scholarship dollars should become available, the cost of preschool should increase or decrease, or the numbers of eligible children should change significantly, the commission will be able to make appropriate adjustments. Legislating a maximum scholarship could mean that as the cost increases poorer children would be unable to afford high quality preschool, and only families who could afford to pay the difference between the maximum and the real cost would benefit. The commission's flexibility will allow Strong Start Tucson to continue to offer children at every economic level the chance to attend high quality preschool.

As a community it is our responsibility to ensure a bright future for our children. While a sales tax is not the ideal way to fund these scholarships, it is the only funding mechanism available. No more waiting for state or federal government to provide for our children. Thousands of families are on the state's "wait forever" list. We can help thousands of children right now, right here. Strong Start Tucson is a bold and sweeping proposition. While SST does not cover every child in Arizona or Pima County, when it passes it will be a model for other communities, and held up as the gold standard.

Betty Stauffer is the executive director of Literacy Connects,

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