Arizona should fund fullday kindergarten, provide more cash for child care for the needy and publicly grade day-care centers based on the education they provide, according to a new report from a special state board.
The School Readiness Board also wants to increase the number of children who participate in health screening programs already provided by the state. And board members are suggesting that doctors dealing with children get more training in assessing their mental development.
Nadine Basha, panel chairwoman, acknowledged that many of the recommendations will take money, something in short supply. But she said the report should be considered a list of what can and should be done, if not immediately then over a longer period of time.
The report does not carry a price tag. Similar recommendations made a year ago by a business-led task force, though, were pegged at $118 million a year.
Basha said it would be fiscally short-sighted to dismiss the recommendations because of cost.
"We have a population of children that do not have access to good early childhood education,’’ she said. The result, Basha continued, is that when they finally enroll in school they are behind.
And that, she said, has broader ramifications.
"We pay for remediation within the public school system of trying to catch kids up rather than being wiser with our investment and giving kids the opportunity they deserve,’’ she said.
The financial implications of the report were not lost on Rep. Deb Gullett, R-Phoenix. But Gullett, one of the 38 members of the board, said there are things in the report that require few, if any, new state dollars and provide great benefits.
For example, she said only 60 percent of the children already enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System get the "well baby’’ examinations that are part of the service.
"It can have a huge impact on kids and their ability to learn if they start their lives healthy,’’ she said.
The report got a cautious endorsement from Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"I think there’s a lot here that we could implement and should implement,’’ the governor said. Napolitano said while state tax dollars are in short supply she intends to pursue a public-private partnership, asking businesses to come up with some of the cash.
"The business community understands the importance of the early childhood effort,’’ she said. Napolitano said she intends to use the report of the panel — which was created by former Gov. Jane Hull — as a road map for her own plans to enhance early childhood education.
Key recommendations of state School Readiness Board
• Ensure all children are screened for health problems, including hearing, vision and developmental issues before entering preschool and kindergarten.
• Dedicate funding for full-day kindergarten, starting in communities with high numbers of children from needy families.
• Provide literacy skills to families as well as information about the importance of early brain development.
• Set up a quality rating system to give parents information on child care
• Fund high-quality preschool and child care statewide, phasing it in starting in communities with high levels of poverty.
• Provide adequate funding for child-care subsidies to meet actual demand and cap the amount needy parents must pay.