TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Nonprofits like Head Start's Child-Parent Centers are helping to answer Arizona's education wake-up call.
It is a free preschool program funded by the federal government to help children from birth to five years old who come from low-income families. However, they are not able to serve every child who qualifies.
More than 2,500 children are enrolled at numerous sites across five counties in southern Arizona, including Pima County. The problem is the program is in such high demand, they continuously have to put kids on a waiting list.
According to the American Psychological Association, students in low-income families in 2009 were five times more likely to d rop out of high school than high-income students.
Head Start CEO Erin Lyons said that risk can cost taxpayers a lot of money. If students do not succeed early in school, everyone can pay the price one way or another. Lyons said Head Start is one of the answers to help solve poor-performance reading scores in school.
"The state of education in the state of Arizona is in crisis," Lyons said. "Or else we have people move out of the state, we don't have children who are prepared, we don't attract businesses, Arizona will not be a place where people want to live."
She added, "We'll have more people living in poverty, going to prison. And who wants to live in that kind of community?"
Lyons said Head Start wants to be part of the solution by getting children ready for school before they start kindergarten. She explained early-childhood education is crucial.
"Since 90 percent of a child's brain develops by the time they're age five, it's essential to get to them in the early years and that really lays the foundation for their success," Lyons said.
The program has been around for nearly 50 years. Leaders would like to expand to accommodate more children, but said their hands are tied since they are backed by federal funding.
"The community can contact local lawmakers to ask that they make education a priority in the state of Arizona," said Angela Grijalva, Child-Parent Centers
Executive Administrative Specialist. "Also, this being an election year, the community can take action by voting for candidates that support early childhood education. We cannot fundraise to expand services."
To learn more about Head Start Child-Parent Centers, visit: http://childparentcenters.org/