Award: First Things First Arizona

January 1, 2017

Innovations in American Government Awards

  • AWARD WON: 2017 Top 25
  • AWARDEE: First Things First Arizona
  • DESIGNEE: State of Arizona

First Things First (FTF) is a voter-created, citizen-led public body overseeing $132 million annually for programs to help children arrive at kindergarten prepared to succeed. Community volunteers in 28 regions recommend to a statewide board the early childhood programs needed to improve outcomes for children from birth to age five in their communities. FTF’s statewide board and 28 regional partnership councils (regional councils) — all volunteers — share the responsibility for these early childhood funds. By law, the board must be representative of Arizona’s diversity; it includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and rural and metropolitan residents. The board sets FTF’s vision, determines priorities within Arizona’s broader early childhood system, and — through approval of local funding plans and contracts — ensures that FTF-funded programs improve outcomes for children from birth to age five. Recognizing not all children have the same needs, regional councils ensure FTF-funded services reflect unique priorities in their communities. Each member of the regional councils represents a specific segment of the community that has a stake in school readiness: parents, tribal representatives, educators, health professionals, and leaders in business, philanthropy, and faith. Regional councils study children’s challenges in their communities and the resources that exist to help them; their recommendations to the state board reflect those local nuances. To date, the board and regional partnership council members have volunteered more than 288,000 hours of service to Arizona. In addition to overseeing early childhood programs and funds, the board and regional councils are charged with building public awareness of the importance of early childhood. This also has been done by engaging Arizonans from all walks of life. Since 2010, through strategies funded by the board and regional councils (including presentations, visits to early childhood programs, media stories and community events), FTF has recruited almost 27,000 Arizonans to help spread the word about early childhood’s importance — from sharing information with personal and professional networks to engaging with policymakers to ensure early childhood remains a state priority. FTF’s regional councils have emerged as a national model that allows citizens to participate in their government in a way that is genuine and directly impacts their communities.