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Regional Council Joins State Board in Opposing Plan to Seize Early Childhood Funds; Says Proposal Ignores the Will of Voters

Overgaard, AZ
First Things First

SNOWFLAKE, Oct. 15, 2015 – The First Things First Navajo/Apache Regional Council has resolved to oppose any proposal by policymakers to divert its funding or alter its mission; and, urges every Arizonan to do their utmost to preserve early childhood education and health programs that promote school readiness for young children.

“This plan violates the will of Arizona’s voters and changes the mission of First Things First away from early childhood,” said Regional Partnership Council Chair Leslie Meyers. “These voter-approved funds are intended to ensure all children in Arizona are ready for school and set for life.”

Meyers was referring to a recent proposal by State House Speaker David Gowan and Senate President Andy Biggs to sweep existing FTF funds, seize a portion of future revenues and amend the mission of the agency away from early childhood. The two legislators have included this idea as part of a four-point plan to address a court mandate to pay back K-12 schools for funding increases tied to inflation.

“Keeping our focus on early childhood yields a $16 return on investment of every dollar by the reduction of services needed in K-12 and other social services later on, ” said RPC member Claude Endfield. “Re-routing that money would cost us more in the long run.”

The Regional Council’s resolution – which mirrors a measure approved by the FTF statewide Board at its Oct. 6 meeting – points out that FTF is fulfilling the voters’ mandate to expand early childhood development and health programs that prepare more Arizona children for school success. It also highlights the organization’s impact on prevention and early intervention efforts at a time when other state funding for Arizona’s safety net has been drastically cut.

“First Things First has helped thousands of local Navajo and Apache County children discover and defeat early developmental delays and improve health outcomes, while strengthening families and helping prepare children to succeed in school,” said RPC Vice Chair Byron Lewis. “When you consider that Navajo and Apache Counties are two of the poorest 100 counties in America, along with being among the largest counties in the country, the impact of First Things First in our rural communities is significant. This impact is measured though increased well visits for children, which help identify health issues early on by connecting children and families with community resources, and by providing specific solutions by medical, educational, and behavioral professionals to meet specific needs and challenges.”

The Board resolution urges Arizonans to: inform and educate policymakers about the importance of early childhood to children’s future academic success and well-being; highlight to policymakers the impact that First Things First funds are having in local communities across Arizona; and, call on policymakers to reject proposals that threaten Arizona’s early childhood education and health system by diverting funding or altering the mission of First Things First.

Any efforts to divert FTF funds or change the organization’s mission would have to be approved by Arizona voters. In 2010, 70% of Arizona voters statewide rejected a similar measure.

“When policymakers at the state level make a grab for funds that voters have designated, not once, but twice, to be used to provide services to young children between the ages of birth to five, the thought that crosses my mind is: ‘Why are they going against the will of the voters?’” Lewis said. “We see firsthand, every day, children and families in the area who are directly benefiting from the voters’ investment. Local individuals in rural communities understand how programs that receive First Things First funds benefit their children. When policymakers seek to take funds earmarked for children and redirect them, it diminishes opportunity and we all lose.”