The Payson Unified School District continues to work on a plan to open an expanded preschool program, filling an urgent need in a community sorely lacking in preschool options for parents.
Superintendent Linda Gibson told the school board she’ll schedule a presentation to the board on the preschool program — including a plan to open the program to all preschool-aged children in the community.
The Community Presbyterian Church had operated a preschool program in the building for a time while it remodeled its Main Street facility.
The district hopes to provide additional preschool options. A monsoon storm that damaged the roof of the empty building actually provided additional options when it comes to the ongoing remodel.
“We had a storm and part of the roof came off,” said Gibson. However, that has actually allowed construction to move forward more quickly, with insurance payments covering some of the renovation costs.
The board on Sept. 25 approved the request to move forward with construction.
The building at 1008 S. Westerly includes some 2,050 square feet. The district is working up plans for the renovation now.
The district’s effort comes just as an ambitious Democratic social infrastructure plan has touched off a national debate about the value of comprehensive preschool programs — especially for low-income families. About half of the families with kids in Payson schools qualify for free and reduced lunches based on federal poverty guidelines.
The American Rescue Plan included money for preschool programs and subsidies for families.
Some comprehensive studies show that $1 invested in high-quality early childhood programs produces $7.30 in benefits that include increased wages, improved health and reduced crime.
That estimate comes from a meta-study on early childhood programs by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study compared the children of low-income families who had good preschool programs to those without. The massive study compared differences between the two groups through their mid-30s. The program concluded quality preschool programs had an impact on future job history, mother’s income, later crime rates, high school and college attendance rates and other factors.
The money invested in providing the preschool programs effectively produced a 14% annual rate of return, when the quantifiable social savings were considered.
However, the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies reports that preschool programs cost anywhere from $372 to $1,100 per month, which puts the programs out of reach for many Payson families. However, the district hopes to offer its program at closer to $250 per month.
First Things First reports that the Gila Region has 2,700 children younger than 6, with 36% of those children living in families with incomes below the poverty level.
Congress is currently tied in knots over a proposal to enact a major expansion of the safety net — including billions of additional investment in preschool and child care programs. The 10-year, $3.5 trillion package would increase spending by $350 billion annually, with a large share of that cost offset by higher taxes — mostly on corporations and upper income taxpayers.
The bill is currently stuck in Congress, with Republicans almost universally in opposition and Democrats split over the total cost of the package.