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Tempe to launch free preschool for income-eligible children

Post Date:03/20/2017 7:29 PM

March 20, 2017

Nikki Ripley
City of Tempe

Tempe, AZ – Starting next school year, many Tempe children and families in need will be able to access free preschool – a first-ever city pilot effort to improve kindergarten readiness and long-term school success. The program also aims to help parents bring their families out of poverty.

At its March 16 Work Study Session, the Tempe City Council decided to launch the program in partnership with the Tempe Elementary School District and other potential local and regional partners. A Council working group comprised of Mayor Mark Mitchell and Councilmembers David Schapira and Joel Navarro had been developing the idea for more than two years. Schapira brought the idea to the Council in February 2015.

The two-year pilot program – to be known as “Tempe Free PRE (Preschool Resource Expansion)” – will launch with 20 classrooms housed in existing schools with a capacity of 360 children ages 3 and 4. If it is determined to have been successful in improving kindergarten readiness, the city could consider dedicating a permanent revenue source for an expanded program to serve more Tempe children.

Fiscal year 2017-18 costs for the first year of the pilot are expected to be $3 million, which the Council committed to come from restricted funds the city already has set aside. The funds are derived from city land sale proceeds, as well as from lease payments the city receives when leasing land owned by the city to developers. The City Council will formally vote to approve the budget expenditure during public hearings later this spring, as part of the larger city budget process.

Tempe’s exploration of free preschool got a kick start in April 2016, when the City of Tempe was selected through a competitive process to receive technical assistance from the Institute for ChildSuccess (ICS). With guidance from ICS, city staff looked at the need for more preschool opportunities in Tempe and the feasibility of different funding models.

ICS experts presented to the Council on March 16 their finding that additional preschool opportunities are greatly needed for children living in poverty in Tempe. The ICS study indicated that Tempe is well-positioned for a free preschool program given a high child poverty rate and inadequate kindergarten readiness. Children under 5 in Tempe are experiencing poverty at higher rates than surrounding cities. Research also showed that 64 percent of Tempe children have not reached basic reading and language benchmarks by the time they enter kindergarten.

ICS also provided data on the return on investment demonstrated in studies in other jurisdictions across the country that have implemented similar preschool initiatives. The conservative estimate cited a $4.20 return for each dollar invested in subsidized preschool.

Tempe has five goals in its education plan and the pursuit of free preschool fits into those aims. The five goals in Tempe’s education plan are that all children: live in stable and nurturing families; are mentally and physically healthy; are ready to succeed in school; live in safe and supportive neighborhoods; and make successful transitions to adulthood. The Roadmap for Education plan can be found at

Updates about Tempe Free PRE will be posted to A recorded message phone line has been set up to provide updates as they are available – call 480-858-PreK (7735). There will be an application process and details will be released soon.