Arizona Preschool Enrollment Down

By on April 12, 2021 0 1240Views

The Arizona Education Progress Meter shows the percentage of Arizona 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in a quality early learning setting has declined 3 percentage points, 22% in 2019 to 19% in 2020.

The goal is 45% by 2030.

The enrollment decline is based on two factors:

  • COVID-19’s detrimental impact on child care providers. When the pandemic struck, early learning programs were shuttered. This left tens of thousands of children without much-needed early learning opportunities. Many of these providers have since reopened, but an estimated one-third remain closed
    and those that are open are only serving about 40% of the children they served prior to the pandemic.
  • Loss of the Preschool Development Grant. The federal Preschool Development Grant (PDG) served more than 9,400 children over the course of four years. This $80 million grant allowed the state to build and enhance preschool program infrastructure and enabled the delivery of high-quality preschool in targeted high-need communities.

It was working, but the grant stipulated that Arizona would need to design a funding mechanism that would be sustainable beyond the PDG.

Unfortunately, Arizona has done the opposite. The state has not invested in quality early learning since the cuts of the Great Recession. As a result, Arizona was denied a second round of PDG funding.

All of this has created an early childhood education crisis.

Research has shown that a child’s brain develops more rapidly from birth to 5 than at any other time in life. This window is especially important for learning, and without access to interactive, high-quality learning opportunities, development suffers.

When children aren’t given the opportunity to attend quality early learning settings, their future is at risk. They’re more likely to require remediation in kindergarten, and learning gaps at this age can persist for years.

Arizona’s early learning crisis doesn’t just impact kids. When parents can’t find stable care, they’re unable to return to the workforce and earn much-needed income. That’s a problem families can’t afford. Neither can the state’s economy.

Sadly, a shortage of early learning programs isn’t new in Arizona. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, an estimated 48% of Arizonans lived in a child care desert. These areas are so named because there are either no child care slots available in a given ZIP code, or there are three kids for every child care slot.

Lawmakers have an opportunity to change this with House Bill 2015.

This bill would make up for some of the lost PDG dollars. It would offer $45 million in preschool development grants through fiscal 2024.

It’s not too late. Making sustainable investments like this one will make quality early learning accessible and lay the foundation for literacy and academic achievement.