KINGMAN - Mohave and La Paz counties got their piece of a $91 million pie for early childhood development Friday.
Community leaders, parents and children gathered at the Kingman Unified School District Office for a $2,695,430 check presentation to La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council of First Things First.
"The importance of having this money in our community cannot be overstated," Mohave County District I Supervisor Gary Watson said.
"We have a fantastic opportunity to make the children in our community the priority," Watson said. "And by keeping this focus on children, we are investing in our future and generations to come."
The mission of FTF is to increase the quality of and access to the early childhood development and health systems. Early childhood spans from birth to age 5.
"Timing for this money could not be better," said Nadine Mathis Basha, chairwoman of the FTF Early Childhood Development and Health Board. "These voter-protected funds are stimulus of a different kind, not a bailout, but a parachute. That parachute is for all of the children of La Paz and Mohave counties to give them the opportunity to start school healthy and ready to succeed in life."
The funding for FTF comes from the 80-cent tax on tobacco products approved by Arizona voters in Proposition 203 three years ago. FTF dedicates 90 percent of the money to early childhood programs and 10 percent goes to administrative costs.
"Ours is a very large, rural region, and we need to protect every dollar the voters have invested in our children," said Melissa Howell, council member on the FTF La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council. "Even though this $2.6 million for children is an important and wonderful step in the right direction, it is not enough. We must continue to grow this investment and expand services for children and families to make sure we reach all our children."
Broken up into 31 regions, each region of FTF is audited and must meet outcome-based standards. Each region has a volunteer council and coordinator.
"Last year we spent a significant amount of time traveling La Paz and Mohave counties to hear from communities about what they believe our children and families need," said Merritt Beckett, regional coordinator for the La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council. "Today we are able to share what we learned and how we, as a community, will address those needs."
The council has set a funding strategy for the current year. With approximately 16,000 children 5 and younger in La Paz and Mohave counties, Howell said the funding is needed because the area lacks specialized and preventive health care for the children.
"It's very exciting for us," said Julie Beyer, preschooler coordinator for KUSD. "The kids in our program will benefit from this. We're hoping to expand the preschool with the expanding funds."
For early childhood care and education, $701,896 will be used to increase children enrolled in early care.
The same amount of funds will also go to preventive health. The funds will be used for programs to support access to health care services. Grants will provide expanded access to insurance, prenatal care, well-child checks, oral health care and early childhood mental health care.
For family support, $701,896 in funds will go to programs supporting parents and caregivers in their ability to promote children's optimal development and health. Grants will be provided for access to services and resources for families, including advocacy, home visitation, and language and literacy programs.
The council decided to allocate $388,686 for professional development. The funds will go to programs improving access to professional development opportunities in early childhood education and provide grants for college degree programs, distance learning, community-based training and continuing education classes.
The Teacher Education and Compensation Helps Arizona Program has $144,400 set aside by the council. The local amount is part of the more than $2.9 million available statewide beginning in July for TEACH Arizona. The funds will go to educational scholarships for early childhood education for professionals.
First Things First will collaborate with the Arizona Childhood Development and Health Board. With $26,656 for the partnership, they will work to advocate for early childhood issues and improve the coordination, integration and communication of programs, services and resources for young children and their families.
"We will stand together to make sure children not just survive, but thrive in these economic times," Mayor John Salem said.
The La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council will begin accepting their first round of applications for funding for programs in the strategy on March 3.
"Our children are just too important, too special to lose these services," said Crystal Miller, co-founder of Parenting Autism Challenges Together.
La Paz and Mohave counties weren't the only communities in northwestern Arizona to receive funds. The Hualapai Tribe will get $32,813.
"We know it's hard right now," Basha said, "but in these tough economic times we cannot lose sight of our greatest asset - our children."
Statewide, FTF has identified other strategies.
With more than $14.4 million, funding and education will be provided to qualified childcare centers and family childcare homes to improve quality of care. They will also create a rating system for childcare centers and family child care homes.
Also for child care centers, FTF has designated more than $4 million for health consultation. Experts in child health will be available to support childcare.
Spending $706,000, FTF will distribute information and education kits to parents of newborns upon discharge from hospital beginning next month.
For more information, go to www.azftf.gov.
"In a time of scarce public resources, the care and education of young children will continue to fall to the bottom of the priority list until there is a shift in public understanding about the economics of raising the next generation," Basha said. "High-quality early childhood education is too vital to be brushed aside as a social services expenditure for only a few families or as too expensive to consider in tight budgetary times."