Early childhood advocates in Arizona are working to block state funding for an online early learning program. They successfully defeated a bill that would allocate funds for an online preschool contract in 2020, and they are currently working against new attempts to bring the bill back this year.
HB 2518, introduced in 2019, would have provided $500,000 for the state department of education to work with a contractor to administer a state funded online early learning program. The bill was lobbied for by UPSTART, a private online learning provider, claiming that it would expand access and lower the cost of preschool. A similar bill, HB 2703, was introduced early this year, but the bill died in committee. Now, there are continued efforts by the lobbying firm to add funding for the program to a larger budget bill.
Our allies at Arizona Children’s Action Alliance (CAA) have been fighting tirelessly to combat these efforts. While they recognize that there is a need to expand preschool access, especially in Arizona’s rural areas, they argue online preschool is not the correct solution to these programs and that scarce resources would be better used elsewhere. They are reaching out to lawmakers, advocacy organizations, and the public to make the case that online early learning does not provide developmentally appropriate experiences that young children need to build essential skills at a crucial age.
Citing evidence from a joint statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, they argue that screen time should be limited for young children and should be paired with interaction with an adult. Further, online learning does not address the crucial developmental needs of young children, including self-regulation, social and emotional development, responsible decision-making, physical development, and relationship skills.
The expansion of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic created extra challenges in advocating against the funding, but CAA has made their position clear. The Arizona Early Childhood Alliance and the Arizona Department of Education released guidance for early learning during COVID-19, in which they explained that, while they support schools’ decisions to use online learning for health and safety reasons, they recommend that online learning for young children should be delivered synchronously, be guided by principles of child development, and include interaction with an adult in the home. Further, these programs should only be used when absolutely necessary.
With the support of the Alliance for Early Success, advocates continue to communicate with lawmakers, partner with community-based political organizations, and publish strategic opinion pieces, including a powerful piece written by an early childhood educator.
“Grant funding from the Alliance helped us cover the time spent developing our arguments and advocacy strategies. And more than that, the connections we make through the Alliance have been invaluable. Other states have faced similar bills, and it is so helpful to learn about their strategies. As the only organization doing this kind of work in our state, we need these opportunities to form connections.”
Kelley Murphy, Vice President of Policy
Children’s Action Alliance.
In addition to fighting against the use of funding for online learning programs, advocates are pushing for expanded funding for programs that truly address the needs of Arizona’s children and families, programs that meet the developmental needs of young children and provide childcare services for parents.