Due to the slow economy and a budget deficit, the State of Arizona has already cut several programs and is looking at eliminating First Things First (FTF), a program designed to provide quality early-childhood development and education for Arizona children up to age 5, so that they are well-prepared to enter kindergarten.
In 2006, passage of Proposition 203 allowed funding for FTF through a tobacco sales tax, setting aside 80 cents per pack of cigarettes sold for the program.
Because Arizona voters approved the funding for the FTF program, they must also decide whether the program should be eliminated. On March 16, the Arizona Legislature decided to put the matter on the ballot in November. If the program were eliminated, it would mean $350 million, the amount of money in the FTF reserve, will be redirected into the state’s General Fund.
One criticism of FTF is that it has not distributed program grants in a timely manner and has a large reserve of unspent cash. Nadine Basha, FTF board member who pushed to get Proposition 203 on the ballot, has said that it has taken time to properly build and organize the agency’s staff and volunteer regional council members, and to research the needs of infants and toddlers in FTF’s 31 regions across Arizona. Since a tax generated from tobacco sales will eventually decrease, because smoking rates have slowly been declining over the years, the program’s cash reserve helps ensure that FTF will be around for a while, said Yolanda Adams, coordinator of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Regional Partnership Council.
If the FTF program is eliminated, it will affect child development and education programs for children across Arizona, including Salt River. FTF funds many programs in the Community, including a nine-month pre-K program. The cost to run the program would be $160,000, including staff and a new playground located at the old Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) building on Longmore and McDowell Road. If funds are eliminated, this program will no longer be possible.
Other Community programs funded by FTF include teaching of the Akimel O’odham and Xalychidom Piipaash language to 100 ECEC children with early literacy and language development.
The FTF funding also paid for pamphlets that were sent out to more than 175 parents, helping them understand their child’s early learning and health needs. This is important, since FTF’s main purpose is to help children prepare for kindergarten.
Another program FTF supports is emergency food boxes. They help more than 100 families with children under age 6 meet their nutritional needs.
To learn more about what you can do to support early-childhood investment in Arizona, visit www.azftf.gov or call your regional representative at (602) 771-4986.