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Arizona Preschool Programs Meets Only 27% Of Quality Standards

Only 4 percent of Arizona 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs, compared to the national average of 33 percent.

The National Institute for Early Education research analyzed preschool programs in all 50 states, and found Arizonawas one of nine states that met less than half of the quality benchmarks.

“Most of the country has moved ahead, Arizona has made no progress in the last 15 years,” said Steve Barnett, founder of NIEER and co-author of the study.

Majority of the problems with Arizona’s early childhood education programs can be traced back to lack of funding, said Bernett.

Arizona’s First Things First program funnels money from state tobacco revenue into various early childhood programs.

From 2007 to 2015, there was a decrease of almost $40 million in tobacco tax revenue, “and the Legislature has not allocated more funding,” Barnett said.

While many states saw a decrease in per-pupil early education funding, Arizona’s remained steady.

However, Barnett’s study found Arizona spends about $15,000 less per-pupil than the national average, and other states funding dropped due to an increase in enrollment, while Arizona’s enrollment numbers remained steady.

Arizona only met three of the 11 quality standards, and Barnett recommends the state requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and provide meals to students.

“Money is not always the solution, but if you don't have the resources to support teachers and provide accountability, then those things don’t happen,” he said.

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Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer from 2015 to 2019.