Gov. Janet Napolitano reached out to the business and philanthropic communities Monday to seek support and possibly money for all-day kindergartens and other education, health and family programs. The appeal came as the Arizona Legislature faces a $1 billion gap in next year's state budget and, far from considering new programs, is looking at cutting education and child-care funding.
Despite the budget crunch, Napolitano told a group of about 160 foundation and business leaders Monday they should partner with the state to find creative means to implement such programs.
“We are not going to sit around and moan and whine about the budget,” she said. “What we are going to do is be imaginative, we're going to be collaborative . . . we're going to set high goals for ourselves . . .”
While Arizona can't fund new programs now, she said state officials can “begin to talk about what is our goal and how we can work with the business and philanthropic sectors to actually start moving there.”
Napolitano said she wants to “set a national standard for collaboration among the philanthropic, business and public sectors.”
The new governor, a Democrat, has been made full-day kindergartens a high priority. Under current law, state money provides for only half a day although schools districts can offer all-day kindergartens if they find other funds.
Among East Valley districts, Tempe Elementary School District has all-day kindergartens and Scottsdale Unified School District makes full-day available at some schools to parents who can afford to pay for the extra time. Mesa doesn't have all-day kindergartens. Some business organizations have jumped on board. The Coalition Business Council and the Greater Phoenix Leadership are supporting a program that would begin phasing in all-day kindergartens by 2005 and fully implement the program by 2008.
The program would be voluntary, at least initially, meaning local districts would not be required to provide the service unless they were ready and willing.
Advocates say all-day kindergartens do a better job of preparing children to learn in the first grade. Some studies have also found long-term educational gains. Carol Peck, a former kindergarten teacher in Mesa and school superintendent who is now president of the Rodel Charitable Foundation, said all-day kindergartens help Hispanic children learn English and thereby achieve more in school. Curriculum is critical, she said.
“There needs to be an academic focus on reading readiness,” she said. “It doesn't help to just extend day care.”
Jim Zaharis, a former Mesa Unified School District superintendent who is working full time with the Greater Phoenix Leadership on education programs, said a political consensus is building among businesses about the importance of all-day kindergartens. That makes this a good time to push for action even with the state's budget problems, he said.
“We need a vision and a clear statement of what we want to accomplish,” he said.
Paul Koehler, the governor's policy adviser for education, said the cost of all-day kindergartens has not been determined nor has the governor determined how much businesses should contribute.
“We're deciding what to do first,” he said. “As for business involvement, we won't ask until we know what we want to do.”
He said Monday's session indicated strong support to do more for early-childhood education and that all-day kindergartens are a good place to start. He added that Napolitano has “a bias for action.” The governor's office hopes to have a report prepared by the end of March on how the government and private sectors can work together, said Lisa Glow, director of the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.
In addition to money, the private sector could provide management skills and an ability to bring public attention to issues, she said. Glow cited as a possible model a program in North Carolina in which business partnerships provide matching cash and in-kind contributions for early-childhood services.