By Teri Carnicelli
Arizona still ranks 46th out of 50 states in critical conditions for children, according to the 26th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Arizona continues to stand out in its extremely low rate of young children participating in preschool.
But a federal grant aims to put a dent in that rate by providing $20 million to Arizona, to be used to develop or enhance state preschool programs in order to deliver high-quality early years education.
About $92,000 of that Preschool Development Grant money has been given to the HonorHealth Desert Mission Lincoln Learning Center in Sunnyslope, which according to the grant parameters must be used to “sustain high-quality preschool programs to reach and serve additional eligible children in one or more high-need communities.”
The Lincoln Learning Center, located at 303 E. Eva St., will use the money to provide 20 scholarships (at about $4,600 each) to some of its existing families who qualify at 200 percent below the poverty level. The scholarship will cover one year of care per family.
John B. King Jr., deputy secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education, toured the Lincoln Learning Center on July 2 and was impressed with the quality of care and extensive services that children receive there.
The purpose of his visit to Arizona was in part to give him a better understanding of the state’s preschool needs. The Lincoln Learning Center stands out as a highly successful program and role model.
A licensed, accredited child care and early education program, Lincoln Learning Center is one of the few schools in Arizona to meet the nation’s highest standards for child development and school readiness.
In addition, Lincoln Learning Center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and has been recognized as a five-star First Things First Quality Site. This is due to the center’s commitment to health and safety for children, including a full-time registered nurse on site, a part-time childcare health consultant, and a locked, password-protected, inner security door that separates the front office from the rest of the center.
Lincoln Learning Center uses Creative Curriculum, a research-based program with age-appropriate activities that support early childhood standards developed by the Arizona Department of Education.
The center serves approximately 175 children a day. It has 266 children enrolled, which includes children who don’t attend daily but are on a “on call” list, in the event that a full-time student calls in sick and a space becomes available for that day.
The center has the capability to serve more children but self-limits due to its NAEYC accreditation and keeping the teacher-to-student ratio lower.
“We were honored to welcome the U.S. deputy secretary of Education to Lincoln Learning Center as part of an Arizona Department of Education event to highlight the Preschool Development Grant,” said Kathryn Wauters, director of the center. “Deputy Secretary King toured the center and was able to spend some time in one of our pre-kindergarten rooms, interacting with the children.”
King briefly visited every classroom with Wauters, and then spent some quality time in preschool teacher Carol Throckmorton’s class, first sitting in a circle with the mostly 4-year-olds—and getting an earful from one or two not-so-shy students—before moving on to participate in a few arts-and-crafts with the children.
Despite the success at Lincoln Learning Center, more than two out of three young children in the state miss this foundation for educational success, ranking Arizona third-worst in the nation.
“Arizona can’t achieve our goals for third grade reading, high school graduation, and college and career readiness with so many children starting kindergarten already behind,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance.
“This is a chance right in front of us to expand a most critical and basic opportunity for education that can lead to a stronger workforce and a stronger community down the road,” Naimark pointed out.
However, the federal funding is already at risk, with a new U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee budget bill that eliminates future funding for this grant.
“We call on our Congressional delegation to work with us to retain the federal funding for the five-year plan. And we ask our state and local leaders to work with us to invest Arizona resources to build Arizona success,” Naimark said.