Now Reading
Jones: Community crisis of access & affordability

Note: This story is more than 3 years old.

Guest opinion

Jones: Community crisis of access & affordability

We are at a pivotal moment right now in the fight for equity for our youngest learners -- a real opportunity to invest in our most crucial resource, our children.

I have dedicated much of my adult life to advocating on behalf of young children and their families. My journey began in the classroom as a preschool teacher, then director of an accredited child care center and preschool. I have served on the board for both the state Association for the Education of Young Children and the local affiliate, the Southern Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children. I serve on a First Things First Regional Partnership Council and am an adjunct faculty member teaching early childhood coursework to teachers.

Most important of all, I am the mother of two wonderful young children.

In 2017, my husband and I were chosen to represent Arizona as parent advocates with Child Care Aware of America. As parent advocates, we spent hours with Arizona congressional representatives, working to shed light on Arizona’s unnoticed crisis of access and affordability of early childhood education. In the offices of McCain, Flake and McSally it was clear that the issue of early childhood education was not a priority for them. We did, however, find support in the office of Tom O’Halleran who has since gone on to co-sponsor the PACE Act. Thank you, Rep. O’Halleran, for your ears and your action on behalf of children and families, despite the opposition. Information on the PACE Act can be found at

The lack of access to affordable early childhood education has devastating effects that are often invisible, especially to our elected officials. But families with young children understand and experience the crisis personally and profoundly on a daily basis.

So I write today to reveal this invisible crisis to our community — to put it right in our face where we can no longer ignore it.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff (2017) with Harvard Center on the Developing Child states in Breakthrough Impacts: What Science Tells Us About Supporting Early Childhood Development, “The capacities developed during childhood are the building blocks of a well-functioning, prosperous, and sustainable society, from positive school achievement and economic self-sufficiency to responsible adult behavior and lifelong health.” The crisis of access and affordability affects us all.

As an educator, a parent, and an active community member, I see the lack of access to affordable early childhood education through multiple lenses.

As an early childhood educator for 15 years, I have witnessed the lasting impact that rich early learning experiences have on a child’s developing brain. I have spent countless hours working alongside teachers and families to support children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. I have seen firsthand the value of children learning to communicate, problem solve, and collaborate with peers. It is the development of these social skills that prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond.

As parents, my husband and I live the struggle, sacrifice, and strain of affording high quality preschool. We have the flexible work schedules that allow us to catch up on work from home while our children sleep. We have advanced degrees and decent paying jobs that afford our children the opportunity to attend a high quality preschool. Yet I know we are not typical. Thousands of Tucson families work themselves to the bone during the day and many evenings and still do not have the money to send their children to preschool.

If you believe “children are our future” then I urge you to think about what children in Tucson experience each day when their parents can’t afford preschool. Every morning thousands of preschool aged children wake up to a day filled with unpredictable schedules and overwhelmed working parents who are desperately piecing together child care. Too many children are growing up in unsafe environments that lack appropriate stimulation during one of the most critical developmental periods of their young lives.

It might be hard to imagine what parents are going through if you aren’t parenting young children yourself in 2017. The cost of high quality preschool for my two children was $1,485 a month for four days a week from 8:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. And as a former administrator, I know that running a high quality program is expensive. The cost of insurance, rent, food, electricity, licensing fees, materials, etc. absorb almost all tuition fees. Most early childhood teachers earn minimum wage or slightly more even with advanced degrees. Yet they come to work every day to share in the joy of discovery and learning because our children are worth it.

The guilt weighing on over-stressed parents is indescribable. It affects their ability to be present emotionally for their children AND their ability to be present and productive in the workplace. Two generations suffer at one time— every single day. Prop. 204, can change this destructive dynamic. With a small investment from our community, we can put an end to the current crisis for more than 8,000 families.

Prop. 204 is a grassroots, citizens’ initiative with proven success in other cities. Prop. 204 offers the potential to improve the lives of thousands of Tucsonans each year. Prop. 204 has generated a lot of energy in the past few weeks. Energy that assures me that the community will guide this initiative, keep a keen eye on its effectiveness, and pull together to address the crisis of access and affordability that we are all affected by.

This crisis will only deepen. It will not go away in a year, in three years, or in five years. Census data projections indicate an increase of children birth to five for the coming years.

Underprepared children will continue to arrive at kindergarten. Productive employees will abandon the workforce because of the high cost of preschool. Businesses will continue to struggle to find employees with the skill set needed to allow their companies to thrive. When our children suffer, we all suffer. When our children thrive, our community thrives.

As Dr. Jack Shonkoff, M.D., states, “Early childhood is a time of great promise and rapid change, when the architecture of the developing brain is most open to the influence of relationships and experiences. Yet, at the same time, significant disadvantages in the life circumstances of young children can undermine their development, limit their future economic and social mobility, and thus threaten the vitality, productivity, and sustainability of an entire country.”

We live within the context of a community. And right now our community desperately needs your help. As an early childhood educator, as a parent, and as a fellow community member, I urge you to vote yes on Prop. 204. I implore you to encourage others to do the same.

This is a unique opportunity for citizens to join hands to empower two generations at one time so that our city can thrive for generations to come. Is a penny on an ice cream cone really too much to ask?

Amber Jones has worked for the Strong Start Tucson campaign committee.

More by Amber Jones

— 30 —

Best in Internet Exploder