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COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: Federal investment in our children will strengthen Arizona

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Our country cannot reach its potential if our children cannot reach theirs.

The three of us believe in that potential. But we also see a nation where many parents, especially mothers, struggle to stay in the workforce due to child care issues. A nation where some children begin kindergarten woefully behind their peers. A nation where many families grapple with financial stability. A nation where a lack of educational attainment can lead to involvement with crime. A nation where 71% of young people of prime recruiting age couldn’t even qualify for military service if they wanted to, with obesity being the primary medical disqualifier.

However, there’s a clear path forward toward a strong America, and it begins with significant, sustained investments in priorities that can shift the outcomes we just described.

Federal lawmakers should consider proposals that will make child care more affordable and more available, expand access to free, quality preschool for more than six million children, extend enhancements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and bolster nutrition-related provisions that will help kids grow up healthier.

Child care, early education, and nutrition are important issues with a history of bipartisan agreement. Many studies have shown that strengthening evidence-based policies and programs related to these issues provides a foundation for the success of our next generation and the success of our nation.

Addressing these priorities will help make Arizona and our nation stronger today and, especially, tomorrow. That strength matters to us as leaders in business, law enforcement, and the military. We understand that, from an economic, crime-prevention, or national security perspective, acting on these issues is essential to giving our young people the best chance to succeed and contribute to our state and to our nation.

First, the research case for both quality pre-K and child care reveals that these experiences can help kids attain more positive outcomes in school and life, including increased high-school graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, higher future income, and better long-term health.

Quality early childhood learning and care experiences close achievement gaps and build children’s early cognitive and behavioral skills. They’ll need these crucial tools as they grow and become the workforce of tomorrow. Stronger support for infants and toddlers would also help provide the parents of young children with the support they need to go to work and remain productive.

That’s a major problem, as our nation has been in the midst of a child care crisis for some time. This crisis costs our economy $57 billion each year in lost productivity, revenue, and earnings -- and that’s just for infants and toddlers. In Arizona alone, that figure is nearly one billion dollars lost every year.

And those figures are from before the pandemic. COVID has only made this problem worse, as female labor-force participation plummeted to its lowest level since 1988. A driving force in that shift has been the lack of reliable, affordable child care.

Meanwhile, cutting child poverty is key to ensuring that more of our children are well-educated and graduating from high school. There’s a research-established link between poverty and low educational attainment and reducing child poverty will ensure that more children can access a path to a successful and crime-free adulthood.

The CTC is one of the strongest proven tools to help low-income families escape poverty. It’s critical to these families that Congress extend the CTC’s expansion, which expired at the end of 2021. Restarting and making permanent the CTC’s expansion would raise a significant number of children out of poverty.

Finally, prioritizing federal child nutrition programs, helping to give children access to fresh, nutritious meals and to learn healthy eating habits, which will help more young people be prepared for a successful career in the military, or in whatever path they choose.

Taken together, these measures and investments will be a much-needed boost for the future of our country — and will allow more young people in this country to reach their potential, while boosting our workforce, public safety, and national security in the process.

Our generation has a responsibility to ensure the success of our children’s generation. For the sake of our nation’s future strength, we must capitalize on this opportunity to enhance the lives of American children and families.

William P. Ring, County Attorney, Coconino County; Member, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

Mary S. Alexander, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, DMB Development LLC; Member, ReadyNation

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Jeffrey Buchanan, U.S. Army; Member, Mission: Readiness

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