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Arizona Inches Toward Education Goals

Thew Elementary School
Carrie Jung/KJZZ
Thew Elementary School kindergartners play an educational game in 2017.

Arizona is inching toward a series of education goals ranging from increased high school graduation rates to more access to early childhood learning.

Nonprofit Expect More Arizona  outlined these goals with the support of education and business leaders last year and presented on their progress before the annual League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference Tuesday.

For example, one goal is for 45 percent of Arizona’s 3-and 4-year-olds to be in quality preschools.

In 2017, Expect More Arizona estimated 21 percent were in these learning settings. Now, it’s ticked up to 24 percent.

Tempe City Council approved a free pre-k pilot program in 2017 at the cost of about $3 million a year.

More than 300 kids enrolled last year.

“If you give people an opportunity they’ll take it and these kids are most certainly taking those opportunities and it’s been incredibly gratifying and impressive,” said Andrew Ching, the city manager.

An analysis from the city shows the majority of these kids improved their literacy, social and emotional skills. Parents also benefited.

“Part of this was really to improve the overall economic well-being of our families,” Marie Raymond, who oversees the program, previously told KJZZ. “In fact, 91 percent of those who responded to our surveys indicated that they either went back to work or increased work hours, which is huge."

Mesa is providing resources, like tablets to some families to help prepare kids for school through a program called Mesa K-Ready.

Anyone with a Mesa library card can access free online lessons through a program called Miss Humblebee’s Academy.

Mesa Mayor John Giles said cities alone cannot solve the state’s education woes.

“I hate to be the downer in the room but I think at the current trajectory, I’m pessimistic,” Giles said. “I’m thrilled with the enthusiasm we saw in the last year around education, but it’s not enough.”

Other local leaders at the meeting are working to influence change on a smaller scale.

For example, committee Achieve Pinal has made presentations to superintendents in their county about career readiness.

Judee Jackson is Casa Grande Elementary School District Governing Board President and member of Achieve Pinal.

“We have no budget, we have no staff, but we have relationships with people and we must leverage those better,” Jackson said.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.