Originally Published: September 12, 2009 9:16 p.m.
Twenty-seven years ago, the League of Women Voters of Central Yavapai understood the importance of quality childcare.
Fifteen years ago, the league remained on the cutting edge of promoting early childhood services.
Today, the league members remain passionate about improving the lives of children from birth to age 5 to ensure their readiness for school and optimum development.
First Things First founder Nadine Basha and FTF Regional Coordinator Marcia Jacobson spent Saturday morning talking about the program at the League of Women Voters' September General Meeting at Las Fuentes Resort Village.
In November 2006, Arizona voters approved Proposition 203, a citizens' initiative the pays for quality early childhood development and health.
The proposition created a revenue source for what was to become First Things First, an 80-cent tax on all tobacco products.
Basha said it took six years to get Prop. 203 on the ballot.
"First Things First is a complex issue. We are building a system of early care and intervention for young children in Arizona," Basha said. "The goal is to provide the opportunity for every child to come to school ready to learn. How can we ask so much from a 5-year-old when we provide so little?"
Proposition 203 included the following principles:
Local communities must come together to plan and administer what works best in their community;
The plan must be flexible enough to accommodate the unique demographics in Arizona;
The plan must be transparent and accountable for outcomes.
Basha said that First Things First is the glue that "pulls things together."
Jacobson said FTF does not provide direct services. Instead, the 11-member regional partnership council determines local needs and how best to spend the state allocation.
Basha said the FTF State Board allocates money to each of 31 regional councils based on the number of children under the age of 5, with an additional weight given to children living in poverty.
"We are proud to say that 81 cents of every dollar goes to regional partners. Less than 10 percent is spent on administration costs," Basha said.
In 2009, FTF received $151 million from the tobacco tax, earning $5 million in interest. Basha said FTF has accumulated $362 million in its coffers.
"It was important not to spend the money right away. We wanted to wait until we knew how it would flow to the partners and we needed to establish accountability," Basha said.
The FTF Yavapai Regional Partnership Council's first task was to complete a regional needs assessment. Then the council started strategic planning to answer the question, "What can we do?"
Jacobson said the local council received $2.8 million for fiscal year 2009-10.
"This is new money to improve services to young children," she said. The regional partnership will receive $3.9 million in fiscal year 2011.
Jacobson said the regional partnership is providing grants to service providers to enhance and expand current programs.
One strategy of the local partnership is increasing public awareness of the resources available to parents and guardians.
Jacobson said for the first time, "The Big Kids Book," which lists people and places that help children, youths and families, will include a "Little Kids Book."
The "Little Kids Book" lists specific resources for children from birth to age 5.
"I point this out as an example of a strategy we have already completed," Jacobson said.
Additional information about the state and county First Things First programs is available at www.azftf.gov.