How Tempe Plans To Keep A Low-Cost Preschool Program Going

By Mariana Dale
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 5:14pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 8:26am

Thew Elementary School
Carrie Jung/KJZZ
Thew Elementary School kindergartners play an educational game in 2017.

Tempe started offering a free preschool program to low-income families last year, but to keep the program going the city will next year start charging some families.

“We introduced a new model  that will make it more sustainable, more accessible and hopefully give us a scalable option,” said Tempe City Councilman Randy Keating, who’s on a working group related to the program.

The program, called Tempe Pre, will continue to be free to families currently enrolled. Future students will be split into three groups — fully subsidized tuition, half-price tuition ($4,148 annually) and full-price tuition ($8,297 annually) depending on a family’s ability to pay.

There are 360 spots for 3- and 4-year-old kids in the year-round program at Tempe Elementary and Kyrene schools.

The program costs the city $3 million a year and Tempe leaders originally approved the funding as a two-year pilot program.

The working group plans to propose a sales tax to support the program that would go to voters in 2020.

Even if it was approved, there’d be a two-year gap. That’s why the working group wants to reduce the cost of the program to $2 million next year and $1.5 million the following year.

Early results from Tempe’s free preschool program are promising.

Most children in the program improved their literacy, social and emotional skills in one year.

And there’s been economic benefits since the program started:

  • 91 percent of parents who responded to a survey say they’ve been able to go back to school or work more
  • 14 families report they’ve reduced their reliance on government assistance.
  • 15 families report they found secure housing

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