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home : blogs_old : ability and accountability January 25, 2015

Ability and Accountability
By Richard Haddad, Prescott Valley, AZ
rhaddad@westernnews.com
"[Children] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are."
"Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it."

-- Two of my favorite quotes by Jim Henson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tobacco tax fight reveals what matters most to Arizona voters

 Richard Haddad

Funded by the tobacco tax, First Things First works to ensure young children in Arizona, ages birth to five, are healthy and ready to succeed when they enter school. It represents the difference between a government that wants to build bigger prisons versus people who want to first build better lives for children.

In November 2006, during a booming economy, Arizona voters increased taxes on a pack of cigarettes by 80 cents to fund a program we may not remember or know much about today.

Now please don't get me wrong, I am not writing this to be critical of some mysterious program reluctantly funded by Arizona smokers. This introduction is meant to be a timeline of perspective -- to show what happens when voters are asked to tell legislators, with their votes and their money, what really matters most.

In 2010, four years after the tax increase and in the midst of the worst economic crisis since World War II, a proposition was placed before voters to kill the program they had originally approved. It proved to be a bitter battle -- a fight, the results of which, would be very revealing and relevant to voter issues we are facing again in November. Prop 302 would put the program's $324 million into the state's beleaguering general fund, to be rerouted to other services in an attempt to stop a bleeding budget.

One question the proposition inherently placed before voters was, who would you rather have deciding where tobacco tax money goes, volunteers in local communities or legislators.

The program was called First Things First. If you don't know what it is, you are not alone.

John Kavanagh, a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives, supported the proposition to kill First Things First, explaining, "Most people have no idea what they're doing."

Two years after the kill effort, the program is still active and being funded by the tobacco tax. Voters overwhelmingly shot down the proposition, with nearly 70 percent in favor of keeping First Things First alive.

Why? I think it is because First Things First supporters were able to show voters at the time that the program was a rare gem, one that worked forward rather than backward. It is about helping Arizona Children birth through age five during the most critical time of their lives. It represents the difference between a government that wants to build bigger prisons versus people who want to first build better lives for children. It's about putting first things first.

Maricopa County Public Health Director Bob England emphasized First Things First's preemptive power, "Those kids grow up and have 80 percent fewer encounters with the juvenile justice system. So that's 80 percent less need for courts, for juvenile detention, and by implication, probably many of those kids would have wound up in jail....They tend to save us money on the back end. That means that had we been doing this stuff 10 or 20 years ago, we would have had that much less of a financial crunch, a budget crunch, than what we're facing right now."

But six years after its inception many Arizona residents still do not understand what the tobacco tax really does. To give us a clearer snapshot, I asked Claire Louge to answer six questions for us.

Louge is the local Parent Awareness & Community Outreach Coordinator for First Things First here in Yavapai County.




1. In 10 seconds or less, how would you explain what First Things First stands for?

Claire Louge: 90 percent of a child's brain develops before kindergarten. The brain connections made in the early years lay the foundation for success in school and in life. First Things First works to make sure all young children in Arizona, ages birth to five years old, are healthy and ready to succeed when they enter school.

2.What is it that might surprise people when they learn specifics about First Things First?

Claire Louge: Most people are surprised to learn that these funds are locally controlled. In this region, we have our own council that decides what kinds of programs need to be funded for young children in Yavapai County and Sedona. The council focuses on supporting programs that make a positive impact on school readiness for young children.

3.Can you give an example of something First Things First has accomplished?

Claire Louge: Because of First Things First, more children have access to high quality early learning programs, including age-appropriate learning materials, lesson plans focused on language and literacy; and teachers trained to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Through home visitation and community-based classes, hundreds of parents have support so that they can feel more competent or confident as their child's first teacher.

4.What is one of the most common issues parents may deal with alone, not knowing that First Things First can help?

Claire Louge: There are lots of issues that parents of young kids deal with on their own -- everything from whether their child eats enough, babies that cry all the time, wondering if their child's development is on track or behavior issues. There is one resource that can help with all that, and so much more. The Birth to Five Helpline is free to parents and caregivers of kids 5 and younger. It's staffed by experts that can help parents or caregivers with any early childhood question, no matter how big or small it may seem. The number is 1-877-705-KIDS.

5. What irks you personally as you try to move forward in this effort to help children in Arizona?

Claire Louge: In some people's eyes, Early Childhood is an afterthought. Many people don't realize that early childhood is an issue that affects us all - now and in the future! Quality early childhood programs mean kids are ready when they start kindergarten. Ready students means they are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. More educated workers mean more productive citizens, which in turn means a better community for all. We need to recognize that early childhood is where a child's education begins; if we want a world-class education system, we need to include the early years.

6. If someone wants to make a difference in improving education, healthcare or family support for these young children, what would you suggest?

Claire Louge: Get involved, get engaged and get 'em ready! To get informed, visit azftf.gov/brains to learn about early childhood and how it impacts you. You can also have us make a presentation to a group you are active in -- at work or in your volunteer work.
To get engaged, join First Things First on Facebook (AzFirstThingsFirst) or follow us on Twitter (@azftf) and share what you learn with others. Help us spread the word on the importance of early childhood. And finally, get 'em ready. Apply to serve on our Regional Council, which is responsible for determining where our local early childhood funds are spent. We currently have an opening for a Business Representative and a Member at Large. You can check out the application at www.azftf.gov/apply.
The more support we give to young kids in our community, the better prepared they will be to succeed in kindergarten and beyond!




Thank you Claire.

As a journalist and a parent who has raised five children in Arizona, my heart aches with every story I read about our young people struggling to succeed. Arizona continues to have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the country, and still we are among the very bottom when it comes to education funding.

In 2010 when voters were asked to kill First Things First, they were also asked to vote yes on Prop 100, a measure that raised taxes by one cent per dollar to fund primary and secondary education, health and human services and public safety. More than 64 percent of Arizona said yes to Proposition 100, proving once again that when it comes to our children, Arizonans are willing to invest in their future, and put firsts things first.

On a Related Vote Note:

On the upcoming November Arizona ballot Prop 204 is a continuation of the one cent sales tax we are already paying, and a tax we already solidly approved. It is not a new tax. It guarantees more money goes into our schools, which are currently last in the nation in per-student funding, and it makes sure short-sighted legislators cannot cut school funding even further. For more about Prop 204 visit www.notaspecialinterest.com.

One late addition I would like to add to this entry considering all the discussion in the thread below. This BRAIN HERO video is less than 3 minutes long, but it explains a lot.



Related Links:
• Visit First Things First website www.azftf.gov
• Click here for more information about Prop 204
• Do you favor the Quality Education and Jobs Act (Proposition 204)? - Pro
• Do you favor the Quality Education and Jobs Act (Proposition 204)? - Con


Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 09, 2012
Article comment by: An Arizonan

I taught all ages. I mentored youth, coached them and encouraged them to be all that they could be. I watch my neices and nephews outperform all their classmated, without ego, because from as young as possible they were educated. This thing about being macho cause youi did it is the Arizonan terrible mentality at work. So many areas in Arizona are neglected because of this mentality that it doesn't take a village it just takes my machismo becuase by gosh I did it.
Kudos to you "mother of 5" but move over and get out of the way.
First Things First is a blessing don't make your weakness mirror it as a curse. I bet you can't run a marathon or overhaul an engine but no one is out there saying you should be fixing your own car or running to work. Get over yourself and look at the good this is doing for lots of people who aren't as competent as you claim you are or were.
My neices and nephews earned 50,000 a year scholarships because from the beginning it was great parenting and a community that raised them and help educate them.


Posted: Thursday, November 08, 2012
Article comment by: All in this together

First Things First is committed to supporting evidence-based programs that actually make a difference for young kids. Thatís why they donít just throw money everywhere. That money that theyíre ďsitting onĒ? Thatís called a fund balance. Itís there to make sure that they can sustain their programs in the long run, even if thereís a decrease in tobacco sales which decreases the money coming in for kids (which there is projected to be). I say itís a responsible, sustainable business model. If you really want to change things, why donít you get involved?

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Article comment by: Not Buying It

First Things First leadership - at the state and regional levels - is so all over the map regarding their priorities. Statewide, hundreds of staff have been hired due to new funding and a year later they're laid off because First Things First decision makers decided to pursue new paths. VERY unfair to workers.

Similarly, how is $300M-$400M sitting in the state coffers helping children at all. Fund balances help no one but the administrators. Free up the money - ideally on evidence-based programs and not on whichever program can hire the most people the cheapest.

I call FOUL on FTF!


Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Article comment by: Roger Doc

The real solution to this issue is to quit taxing select groups of people i.e. smokers who for some reason everyone wants to deem "evil" and if you want funds for those children and schools then tax the parents who have those kids. Why unfairly tax single citizens who have chosen not to have children and who may smoke. That's unfair taxation. Why should all of Arizona pay for your children to go to school and get decent guidance and education when you as the parent are failing in that primary responsibility???

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2012
Article comment by: timmeah timmeah

Well Andy, you certainly represent all that's made Prescott such a friendly town! Instead of being part of the community, you and your ilk prefer to hide in your caves and throw rocks at those who would like to better themselves and the world around them. Thanks for turning "Everyone's Home Town" into the hate capital of Arizona!

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2012
Article comment by: @We all want the same thing

"The article says that local volunteers actually decide what kinds of programs are funded by First Things First in their community- not government bureaucrats. That means we have a local council, and you could even apply to be on that council. These are open meetingsÖI think the next one is this Wednesday."

Sounds like another staff member. Kathy Watson is the board president and Jennifer Gosnell was a former staff member. Who's defending this seriously overpaid program? Just the people who benefit.

FTF's council is a rubber stamp board selected by the director -- you wouldn't be on it if you had a different perspective. Several members have serious conflicts because their childcare centers benefit from the funds through scholarships to both the teachers and the kids who attend.

Changes are needed, but it's the same way at the state level. Perhaps some media should oversee how they're spending our millions.


Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article comment by: Andy Anderson

@ Jennifer Gosnell

"All Arizonans have a shared responsibility in helping Arizona children grow up healthy and ready to succeed."

No,not true. It is not my responsibility to make sure my neighbors kid can read. That responsibility falls upon my neighbor. It is only my responsibility to make sure my kid can read.

You can double the price of cigarettes, add a gas tax, and tax the heck out of those evil republicans, and you still have problems with children not being healthy, and not ready for school. Two-fold reasoning...

1) The government can't help itself, much less you.
2) There will always be bad parents.

That's the bottom line. So stop taxing me to death. Your pictures of pretty little girls won't make me feel guilty, only sorry she has terrible parents who don't spend time with her unless it is for a big-mac.


Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article comment by: Jennifer Gosnell

All Arizonans have a shared responsibility in helping Arizona children grow up healthy and ready to succeed. Forty four percent of Arizonaís 4th graders canít read at grade level. The best way to reverse this trend is to help children develop language and expose them to books before they enter kindergarten. Since 2009, FTF has helped to make this happen by providing $560 million in competitive grants to local communities to help provide Arizonaís children with the tools they need to succeed in grade school and beyond.

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article comment by: Weighing In Weighing In

Opinions expressed represent sectors of our population and we are all entitled to our say. Here's mine as I represent most of the early childhood teachers in our region.
Studies show that children exposed to high quality early childhood education have better language, math and social skills, and better relationships with classmates. Since 2009, FTF has helped to make this happen by providing $560 million in competitive grants to local communities to help provide Arizona's children with the tools they need to succeed in grade school and beyond.
Through the FTF grant process, organizations are there to help preschools enrich their programs and reach the highest standard of care and early education programming. Whether it is help to a teacher to further their early childhood education or to a family that wants their child in a quality preschool but may not have the means, FTF is a part of it all.
How can anyone argue over the welfare of our children? Arizona is at the bottom of the education rung. The best start we can give ALL of our children is where we need to begin.


Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Article comment by: bob grant

OK so someone is now expecting a child they do not want ,how in Az are they going to get the abortion they might chose,First things first is one of the few progressive prevention programs in Arizona keep it going and growing.

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Article comment by: @ Mother of Five

How does this program enable anybody?

Of course it starts with parents - but until we have the government force sterilizing "unsuitables" you need programs like this to assist those parents who need help being parents. But more than that - to help ensure children don't suffer any more than they have to for their parent's shortfalls.

I'm glad your mother was such an awesome person - but what if she wasn't? Wonder how you might have turned out without such a great role model. But then again I don't care because if you did fall through the cracks and fail at life it was your fault anyway.

Right?


Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Article comment by: Dee Zenk

It takes a Village-remember that old saying? Well it is true and sometimes it takes even more than that. I am not a smoker and dislike being around it so taxing it is okay with me, but that aside, we have to remember that these kids are our future and the old saying ďno kid left behindĒ is not cutting it. Their early education 0-3 years is the most important and that needs to come from the parents, many of whom are too young and most of which are too busy to know how important those first 3 years are. First Things First can offer free parent education and quality child care facilities that support what these babies really need. But only if we support First Things First with our tax dollars

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Article comment by: Kathy Watson

First Things First does not interfere with families and how they choose to raise their children. The goal is to partner with them to ensure they have the tools needed for success in school. Since 2009 First Things First has helped thousands of children get ready for school with $560 million in funding to children throughout Arizona using competitive grants at the local level. Through this commitment, First Things First encourages parents to help children develop language and expose them to books before they enter kindergarten. Helping them learn that books have great stories that peek their imagination encourages readiness for the continued learning that happens in school.

Studies show that children exposed to high quality early childhood education have better language, math and social skills, and better relationships with classmates. Through First Things First, early childhood educators are continuing their own educations with scholarships and existing centers are raising their quality of services delivered. The better start these young children get, the more likely they are to succeed in school, less likely to receive failing grades or be held back and more likely to advance into college and successful careers. They also tend to be healthier and demand less from public social services.

All Arizonans have a shared responsibility in helping Arizona Children grow up healthy and ready to succeed. I am very pleased that the voters of Arizona voted for this continued funding stream dedicated to children Birth to Five. Too often this population is forgotten and the assumption is that all children arrive at Kindergarten with the same skills and motivation. That is simply not true. Yavapiís Regional Council does a great job in allocating the available funds to the various grantees with attention to meeting the needs of the children in our community.


Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Article comment by: William Waldock

First Things First helps kids in our community during the most crucial early years of life. The impact this program has in Yavapai County and in the state of Arizona is so important and will have impact for generations to come.

William & Barbara Waldock


Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Build A Strong Foundation For The Future

Quality early childhood experiences increase high school graduation rates and college enrollment, which in turn, reduce teen pregnancy, unemployment, crime and dependence on social services. Certainly a cause (a successful cause) that I will always support and admire!

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Richard Haddad

Thank you Gracie. Well put. To support my thoughts on this issue I just included a short video to my entry above called "Brain Hero." It explains how some of these issues connect.

For the source page on readyazkids.com click here.


Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Gracie xx

@ Mother of Five. "...then why do they have babies in the first place?" They just do. They always have. Throw those kids out as no good? Leave them behind as trash? Yes, I know, the parents have to take care of those kids. But the fact is, they don't. The parents are failing. Well, I guess the kids must fail too. Right? Oh, and this column was not about all our money and all the programs, it was about the cigarette tax and the First Things First program. And we can each vote however we want on the permanent sales tax.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Parent that has needed help

@mother of five
First Things First funds some of those programs already in place that you said should be used to teach "those" parents how to be better teachers, providers, and leaders for their children. These programs DO allow children to have a better lot in life.

You said it yourself, "Children do not come with a manual." If my taxes can help, it feels more right to allocate the funds to help them early in life. It's not the child's fault if parents struggle, whether by choice or circumstance. I am one of "those" parents that have needed help in the past. For those of you with open minds, check out the parent resource page on the First Things First website to see some of the programs available:
http://www.azftf.gov/whatwedo/impacting/pages/supportingkids.aspx


Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: We all want the same thing

@Mother of Five I agree with a lot of what youíre saying, and I also think that what youíre recommending is actually exactly what First Things First is doing.

As the article says, the voters created First Things First in 2006 by creating a NEW stream of funding from a tax on tobacco for programs benefiting young children. Itís not part of the general state fund.

Children absolutely deserve the love and understanding of their parents- they need that to grow and thrive. Youíre completely correct in saying that children ARE the most precious gifts in the world. I am sure that your commitment to parenting, which youíve even demonstrated here by posting so passionately, has guided your children to success and wellbeing. Like you, parents across Arizona are committed to being the best parents they can be. Thatís why theyíre attending the free parenting education classes funded by First Things First across Arizona, including a bunch here in Prescott. I was given a listing for these free classes, and they can be found on ParentsAZ.org. Iíve attended one of these parenting classes, and itís revolutionized the way I see discipline. I highly recommend them. I donít think that people know about these things as much as they should, which is why Iím glad this blogger chose this topic. Pass it on!

For your comment on parents that donít participate: Itís true we, or the government, canít force parents to do anything. If you have any suggestions as to get more parents aware of programs available, I think this is a great place to share it.

First Things First doesnít have anything to do with Welfare. It gives funding to programs, like a program to help make sure preschools are high quality and safe, an early literacy program, parenting classes, and visiting nurses for child care centers, and a whole lot more. I think itís awesome that the dollars that we specifically said should go to young children are actually being used in our community.

I think itís great that you give to programs helping children. I do too. Arizona voters did too- through First Things First. And it seems like since you donít smoke, not a dime of your money goes to First Things First, but it looks like you support the health and wellbeing of all young children anyway by giving in your own way, and speaking up for children right here.
One more thing: about your comment on accountability. The article says that local volunteers actually decide what kinds of programs are funded by First Things First in their community- not government bureaucrats. That means we have a local council, and you could even apply to be on that council. These are open meetingsÖI think the next one is this Wednesday.


Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: @ Both Gracie and Children are our future

You seem to have taken what I said and used it out of context for your own agenda. The fact is, we, the taxpayer should not be continuously funding programs such as these. It enables parents to do what is the responsibility of the parents.

One might argue your point Gracie, that if parents are not as "capable," "organized," (although I am not sure what organization has to do with it), and "tough," then why are they having babies in the first place? If I were to go on the notion as both you and CAOF, then why not throw all our money at all the programs to help the children?

I, for one, believe that family is very important, and that children deserve both love and understanding of their parents. I also believe that children are the most precious gifts in this world, one of the reasons why I had five.
My question to you is...Why do you feel that we should pay taxes for these programs that may or may not benefit these families? As CAOF states, the programs are voluntary. If that is the case, then what happens to those children whose parents are not participating, or whose parents collect from the welfare program and do not give to their children, but use the food and money up for their own gain? -- And please do not tell me that it doesn't happen.-- I ask you.........What happens to those children?

Are we to be responsible for every child under the sun? And if so how? I give from my own pocket to every event that requires funds for children, especially for the schools. Yet we pay all sorts of taxes that are suppose to go the educational funding. Do you see what I am saying? I do not speak against the children, I speak against government programs that we are taxed for that use children as the reasons we are being taxed. And as I said in my first post, if we taxpayers did not know where the taxes were going in the first place, how can we make any government entity accountable to make sure the money is going to the right places? We can't! Thus the reason I proposed making parents on AHCCCS, Cash Assistance, TANF, and WIC accountable to these programs by ensuring that the children they brought forth into this world has the proper nutrition, and educational needs. How you ask? By screening these children and by screening the parents. Then through programs already in place, teach these parents how to be a better teacher, provider, and leader for their child. There is millions of dollars a year going to aiding dependent families, which is funded by taxpayer money, but to my knowledge, I do not know of any programs, at least here, that have been implemented to train and employ the adults in these families in order to allow these children a better lot in life.

Children do not come with a manual, thus I did not have all the necessary tools to raise my children either. But I knew in my heart, and with the knowledge I grew up with, that children need love, nurturing, understanding, respect, and the fundamentals of education from the moment they are put into our arms. If not before.

So, criticize me if you will, but I feel that as a parent and a taxpayer, I would like to have a choice as to where my money goes, and it would not be to a program that is "completely voluntary."


Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

Here's what almost always happens with a proposition like this gets passed: The amount of money that gets committed and spent is more than the money that comes in to fund it. In government this is known as overspending your budget. That's what happened here: they estimated how much the smoke tax would bring in, but smokers quit, because of the tax and because they wanted to quit. So in a private sector they would have to make the program smaller when the money cuts back. In government they just try and find the money somewhere else. They cut the school budget, they cut somebody's program. They sell some buildings. Programs like this are well intentioned, but they usually end up in a mess. That's the gub'ment for you. I know a lot about it.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Children are our future

@Mother of Five --- First Things First recognizes that parents are a childís first and most important teachers. Programs, like the parenting education classes that they fund, are designed to encourage and empower parents with the skills and knowledge they need in this changing world to be the best they can be. In addition, their programs are entirely voluntary. Parents who do not want them do not need to sign up for any of them. The variety of programs are simply meant to make sure every child in Arizona has the opportunities they need, no matter their circumstances, to succeed in school and in life - and I donít think anyone can rightfully say that a child doesnít deserve these opportunities.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: lar m

i am voting yes on prop 204. some people (and tv commercials) make it sound like this is some hidden trick to continue the one-cent tax. nothing here is hidden. we know what the proposition is asking. these are our children we are talking about, not some special interest group. parents like me know first hand how our schools are underfunded and our children are being cheated. arizona has left many of them behind for too long. teachers and students need our support. that is why this extension is on the ballot, so voters can decide for themselves if our children's education is worth funding. to me, they are worth the extra penny.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: TOO MUCH FRAUD

yes, even those unfortunates who receive Welfare, food stamps and AHCCCS card, cash assistance, and disability etc. commit fraud with their lies. I voted NO.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Nope, Voted NO

Richard: Although technically true, you statement below is to my mind disingenous. Prop 204 makes a tax that was clearly sold to us as "temporary" permanent, changes significantly how tax revenues are "managed", and gives Arizona the second highest sales tax rate in the nation (perhaps the highest in some areas with local taxes added). Not to mention I have no idea who would be controlling how the money is to be spent other than I know I can't vote them out of office if they screw up (like I can our state lawmakers). What is it with newspapers today? How about providing the truth, all the truth, and letting people decide for themselves?

"On the upcoming November Arizona ballot Prop 204 is a continuation of the one cent sales tax we are already paying, and a tax we already solidly approved. It is not a new tax. It guarantees more money goes into our schools, which are currently last in the nation in per-student funding, and it makes sure short-sighted legislators cannot cut school funding even further."



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