Opinion: The Urgent Call for Arizona’s Investment in Child Care

Credit: Getty Images/Vadym Buinov

By Barbie Prinster, Kelley Murphy

April 24, 2024
By AZECA members (Arizona Early Childhood Alliance)
  • Barbie Prinster, Executive Director, Az Early Childhood Education Association
  • Kelley Murphy, Vice President of Policy, Children’s Action Alliance

Since January 2009, our state has grappled with a critical issue: childcare funding. A tale of missed opportunities dashed hopes, and the resilience of Arizona families unfolds. Let us delve into this narrative—one that affects not just individual lives but the very fabric of our communities.

In that fateful year, state funding for child care vanished overnight. The repercussions were swift: a waiting list emerged for low-income working families, leaving thousands in limbo.

By December 2009, the 10,000th child faced denial of care. This grim list persisted until June 2019, when Arizona finally secured additional federal funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

But here’s the stark truth: despite new federal funding, Arizona has had 15 years of zero state investment for childcare. A decade and a half during which we failed to invest in our businesses, families, and parents striving to work or pursue education.

Related: 100,000 families to see lower child care costs under new Biden policy

Our communities—from Yuma to Douglas, Tucson to Surprise, Prescott to Coolidge, Show Low to Lake Havasu—yearned for support. Arizona welcomes 300 new residents daily, yet our childcare system has suffered and is unable to keep up with the need.

The Precarious Present

As we stand on the steep cliff, COVID relief funding provided a lifeline, allowing Arizona to inch closer to federal guidelines. But now, crucial initiatives—crafted collaboratively and thoughtfully by the Department of Economic Security’s (DES) Division of Child Care (DCC) and funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—teeter on the brink. Their expiration date looms on June 30th.

The Deficit Dilemma

In response, our legislators echo a familiar refrain: “No money. Deficit looming.” Yet, we challenge them. The path to deficit reduction lies not in austerity but in investing in quality early childhood programs. These programs yield dividends beyond dollars—they shape education, health, social bonds, and economic prosperity. Childcare, my friends, is the golden ticket.

The Power of Child Care

  1. Education: Early childhood experiences lay the foundation for lifelong learning. Quality child care fosters cognitive, emotional, and social growth, ensuring our children thrive.
  2. Health: Healthy beginnings lead to healthier futures. Child care promotes well-being, preventive care, and early intervention.
  3. Social Fabric: Childcare centers knit our communities together. They empower parents, strengthen neighborhoods, and create a sense of belonging.
  4. Economic Engine: Child care is more than early education; it’s about enabling parents to work. A robust workforce fuels Arizona’s economy.

The $100 Million Imperative

Gov. Katie Hobbs champions a bold vision: $100 million for childcare. This isn’t a mere budget line; it’s a lifeline. Without it, families suffer, and our economy falters. A waitlist—a cruel déjà vu—looms for those who need child care to work. Do they quit their jobs? Make heart-wrenching choices? We cannot let this happen.

Our Call to Action

Arizonans, let us rally. Write, call, march. Demand that our legislators recognize the irrefutable truth: Investing in child care is investing in our future. It’s time to rewrite our story—a story of hope, opportunity, and thriving communities.


  • Barbie Prinster

    Barbie has worked in the Early Childhood Education field for over 30 years, she started out as a 3-year-old teacher and eventually became a Center Director. For the last 15 years, Barbie has worked for AECEA overseeing Vendor and Membership development, managing professional development training contracts, providing grass roots advocacy trainings, Early Childhood Conferences, several advisory committees and co-chairing Early Childhood Day at the Capitol for the ECE community. In 2021, Barbie became the Executive Director of AECEA. AECEA works closely with State Agencies, the Legislature, the Governor’s office, U.S. Congress and other Early Childhood stakeholders regarding policies and practices concerning ECE. Her passion continues to be for Arizona families to have access to high quality early childhood programs and creatively strengthen workforce development for early educators and those desiring to enter the early childhood field.

  • Kelley Murphy

    Kelley has 25 years of health, early childhood and family policy, advocacy and program experience. The past nine at Children’s Action Alliance. First as the Director of Early Childhood and most recently as the Vice President of Policy in charge of overseeing CAA’s full policy agenda. She is a Registered Nurse (RN) with clinical experience in a variety of health settings. Kelley spent thirteen years in public health departments creating, implementing and leading public health and development programs and working to improve public policy at the state and local level. Prior to her move to CAA, she served as the Policy Bureau Chief at the Arizona Division of Behavioral Health Services where she oversaw policy and contract development and compliance for the Regional and Tribal Behavioral Health Authorities. Kelley was also the Senior Health Policy and Program Specialist for Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First. Hailing originally from Indianapolis Indiana– she is a diehard Colts and Indy 500 fan. Kelley holds both her Bachelors and Master's of Science in Nursing Degrees from Indiana University.



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