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House Bill 2015 aims at funding high-quality preschool for low-income families

Posted at 5:56 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 08:23:52-05

Funding for preschool in low-income communities takes the stage at the state legislature Wednesday morning.

For years, federal funding provided millions of dollars for preschools in low-income communities. That was until this past year when the federal grant expired and school districts were left to scramble to find money to continue the learning programs.

“Yuma County was one of the counties affected the most,” said Representative Lorenzo Sierra, who sponsored House Bill 2015, which plans on appropriating roughly $42 million to make up for the lack of federal funding.

“When we submitted our grant application, one of the reasons why Arizona was denied was due to the fact that we didn’t have state funding going towards preschool programs in low-income communities,” added Sierra.

One of the districts affected by lack of funds is the Tolleson Elementary School District. In the district, hundreds of kids would lose out on preschool over the next several years.

“These are families who would not have been able to afford quality pre-k otherwise,” added Sierra.

Audra Damron has been teaching preschoolers for 10 years in Arizona. She is a teacher in the Tolleson ESD. During her interview, she shared with us that she sees the maximum potential in every single child who steps foot into her classroom.

"We tell our students every day that they could be at NASA building the next spacecraft that could be on the moon or on Mars. I think we have to put our money where our mouth is,” says Damron.

While her preschool curriculum involves academics, such as alphabet learning and letter recognition, to name a few, she says the self-learning aspect of education is a key foundation at this age.

"It’s also the social-emotional skills. The ability to... self-regulate when you are frustrated and you need to calm down. There’s a lot of things that go into it, and through play-based learning, we are able to help them with it before they go to kindergarten,” she adds.

The funding for her classroom for next year relies heavily on HB2015.

According to Dr. Lupita Hightower, Superintendent in TESD, it is specifically these little learners who need the preschool, hands-on experience the most.

“The standards have changed so much in Arizona and in our nation that we now we call kindergarten what is first grade, and when they come in without preschool... it’s a struggle,” says Dr. Hightower.

Representative Sierra says 87-91% of kids who attend high-quality preschool are meeting kinder-ready standards when they go into kindergarten.

"That means they are ready to learn on the first day of regular instruction,” adds Sierra.