First Things First Group Makes Future Plans

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Just four years after voters across Arizona approved the First Things First early childhood initiative, a ballot measure seeks approval to sweep the money and chop the deficit.

Nevertheless, the local FTF council has plans for next year’s funding, and members continue advocating for young children.

“I just hope that the Legislature will leave it alone,” said Hubert Nanty, who up until recently sat on the local council. “Let it run its course. Let it start having an impact.”

New councilor Belinda Guerra took his place as a tribal representative.

Although voters approved the measure in 2006, the councils only began identifying funding priorities in the past two years. Services began last summer.

“There are all sorts of children in Gila County who aren’t getting the services they need,” said councilor Diane Bricker.

The program is funded through an 80-cent tobacco tax, which generates about $150 million each year. Already, the organization has allocated $284 million for early education and health services to help 330,000 children statewide.

This year in Gila County, the regional partnership council has dedicated over $700,000 to various programs including $150,000 for child-care scholarships for about 22 children, $57,000 for 250 children to receive developmental screenings, and $45,000 for a literacy program for 250 children.

Other efforts include a tuition forgiveness program for mental health professionals or physical therapists that commit to working with young children in Gila County for two years. The council dedicated $123,000 for the program.

Interestingly, the council dedicated $25,000 toward oral exams and education for 300 children, but received no applications for service providers.

If voters approve the fund sweep, the money ends Dec. 1.

First Things First targets children from birth through age 5, and has various regional councils that decide how to spend most of the money. Less than 10 percent of the funds statewide pay for administration.

Each of the 31 councils has 11 members from a variety of sectors including education, health services, education and philanthropy. Gila County’s council currently has two vacant seats, and members hail from around the county.

The local councils identify priorities for spending the money, which the state board must then approve. If anyone is interested in serving as a member of the local council, visit www.azftf.gov on the Internet.

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