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Educare Arizona

An early childhood education center empowers local families and invests in its community

In 2011, Educare Arizona utilized LISC’s New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financing to construct a 33,000 square foot early education and healthcare facility in Phoenix, Arizona. NMTC equity closed a funding gap in the project budget and allowed Educare Arizona to open on time in the fall of 2011. In 2018, we exited the transaction, leaving the organization in a strong financial position and poised for continued success. As NMSC’s  seven year partnership with Educare Arizona comes to a close, we reflect on the impact of the organization on its students, families and the surrounding neighborhood and learn what’s next for the comprehensive early childhood education provider.

In 2005, then-Governor Janet Napolitano began working with nonprofit, education, business and philanthropic leaders to establish an Educare school in Arizona. Educare combines the best of Head Start, child care, pre-school and family support to serve low-income children from infancy to the age of five, and help narrow the achievement gap between children in poverty and their middle-income peers before they enter kindergarten. 

Educare Arizona serves 191 students from low-income families annually, and continually has a lengthy waitlist, indicating the very real need for high quality early childhood education in an area of Phoenix with high homeless rates and a poverty rate of 40.9%.

“Arizona does not make large public investments in early childhood education,” says Ginger Ward, CEO of Southwest Human Development, a nonprofit dedicated to early childhood development, and member of Educare Arizona’s Board of Directors. “Educare Arizona works to close the gap for financially disadvantaged children and their families.”

The Educare model is based on research from early childhood development, education, social work and other allied fields and is composed of four core features: data utilization, embedded professional development, high-quality teaching practices and intensive family engagement. Educare Arizona’s small class sizes and high teacher-to-student ratios mean that each class has at least three teachers in the classroom. 

Educare Arizona works to comprehensively address children’s needs, starting at home. When children are enrolled at the center, their families are active participants in the process. Educare Arizona’s team of Family Support Specialists assess families’ needs and help them develop customized goals, pertaining to everything from health issues, education, resettlement issues for immigrant and refugee families and addressing the various factors of inter-generational poverty. They also work to develop family advocacy, encouraging parents to become actively engaged in their children’s educations by joining school boards and creating “family strong” communities.

“Families and children are one unit - we need to think of their success as linked,” explains Marilee Dal Pra, a former member of Educare Arizona’s board, who now serves as the CEO of First Things First, an organization that funds early childhood education and health programs. “Many Educare families are fragilely employed, so part of the focus at Educare Arizona is assisting them in becoming financially stable through employment.” 

Educare Arizona also works to address the lack of qualified early childhood education providers, partnering with Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership to provide internships for students in their early childhood education program. 

Early childhood development is an educational issue, a health issue and an economic issue. It touches everything.
— Ginger Ward

Since the start of this partnership, Educare Arizona has trained hundreds of individuals for the Child Development Assistant certification. Over 250 have been parents of students at Educare Arizona, many of whom have gone on to seek college degrees. In the near future, the school will also offer remote trainings for other early childhood programs with little access to professional development, whether due to lack of funding or issues of geographic accessibility.

“A dedicated group of anchor funders and community partners had a vision early on that Educare would be a hub for professional development for the community and for professionals in the field,” says Ward. “This is an open environment, and early childhood professionals are welcome to visit and observe the kids and our classes, and take their findings back with them. This is another way to address early childhood workforce development issues.”

The Educare Arizona campus also offers several other services to students’ families and the community at large. The Balsz Educare Arizona Center for Health, operated by Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health, is a federally qualified health center addressing the lack of medical care in the area surrounding the school. The center is open to the community at large, providing physical, dental and mental healthcare. The clinic also serves as a clinical practicum site for students in nursing, dental, dental hygienist, allopathic and naturopathic medical programs.

There are few parks in the area, but Educare families and community members spend free time on the open school grounds and courtyard, where regular art festivals are held for students to showcase their art to the community. In a neighborhood where there were once few places for children and families to gather, the school has become a point of pride for the community to rally around. The school and its services have opened up a whole realm of possibilities for the area’s residents and has become a place that truly belongs to the community as a whole. 

“The difference - it’s like night and day,” says Dal Pra. “This shows what happens when you value a community’s young children.” 

Educare Arizona has a robust vision for its future in Phoenix and in the early childhood education community. The school plans to further build out its professional training offerings, and to use the school to host events that offer insights into the benefits of early childhood education beyond the world of educational professionals. 

“When you see this environment, it illuminates this stark contrast between a place like Educare and what we’ve come to expect and accept for the children in most underresourced communities,” says Dal Pra. “People need to know there are other options.”

The school also has plans to follow the academic careers of former students through third grade to better determine the long-term impact of Educare on their educational success and general well-being, and use that information to lobby for better funding for early childhood education programs in the state of Arizona and beyond.

“Early childhood development is an educational issue, a health issue and an economic issue,” says Ward. “It touches everything.”

LISC New Markets provided a
NMTC loan to Educare Arizona


Educare Arizona

An early childhood education center empowers local families and invests in its community

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Malik Elliott, Senior Program Manager