TEMPE, AZ - Free preschool may sound like a dream but it's about to become a reality for many families in Tempe next school year. The city just voted to approve a two-year pilot program for families in need.
It's called Tempe Free Pre. They plan to open up 20 classrooms in existing schools and make place for 360 kids who are three-year-old and four-year-old children.
It's a full-day program with curriculum that is year round. The city wants to hire 20 teachers with aides in each classroom.
Starting on June 4 the city will be accepting applications for about 270 open slots. The city will randomly select from applications.
Thirteen schools are part of the program that will have 18 kids for 15 classrooms in Tempe and Kyrene elementary schools.
"It's huge," said Tempe mom Christine Markely. Her son Oliver qualified for a free special education preschool and she says it can make all the difference.
"For those families who qualify financially to get it for free, it's life changing," said Markley. "His confidence and abilities show he is ready now to sit in a kindergarten classroom.
The city recently conducted a study with the Institute for Child Success. They say it found Tempe was in great need of preschool opportunities for children in poverty.
"We are going to have families and parents who are able to work now, because their kids are in these classrooms full day and year round," said Tempe City Council member David Schapira.
Schapira said that's only the short term benefit. He says their study also showed that every dollar spent on a quality early preschool initiative brings back $4.20 to that jurisdiction.
The two-year pilot program will cost three million dollars. Schapira says it's money that has already been set aside from land sales and lease payments.
But if the program is successful, Tempe City Council may ask it's voters to approve a long-term initiative.