Arizona Saves Early Intervention Program Voters in Arizona saved a key program that provides school-readiness services to low-income children and families—including speech-language services—from state efforts to take over its purse strings. Alarmed by high child poverty rates, Arizona citizens voted in 2006 to levy an 80-cent-per-pack increase on tobacco products to create First Things First. ... Features
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Features  |   September 01, 2011
Arizona Saves Early Intervention Program
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy, assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at cpolovoy@asha.org.
    Carol Polovoy, assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at cpolovoy@asha.org.×
Article Information
Special Populations / Early Identification & Intervention / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2011
Arizona Saves Early Intervention Program
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 1-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.16112011.1
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 1-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.16112011.1
Voters in Arizona saved a key program that provides school-readiness services to low-income children and families—including speech-language services—from state efforts to take over its purse strings.
Alarmed by high child poverty rates, Arizona citizens voted in 2006 to levy an 80-cent-per-pack increase on tobacco products to create First Things First. This extensive, community-based program provides a variety of services designed to help children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed. Five years later, when state lawmakers tried to shut down the program and reroute the tax revenues to the state’s general fund, voters once again rallied and defeated the measure.
First Things First provides services that support parents, improve the quality of early learning in child care centers and homes, and enhance the skills of preschool teachers. A volunteer council in each of 31 regions identifies needs, establishes priorities, and develops programs. Administered by the Early Childhood Development and Health Board, the program works closely with the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP), the state’s provider of Part C services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
Speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy services are part of the program; one of the therapy program’s main objectives is to help local AzEIP providers recruit clinicians who can deliver services locally. To help train and recruit qualified providers (speech-language pathologists are in highest demand) to work in highly underserved Arizona communities, the Therapist Incentives Program was created in 2009. It includes two initiatives:
  • Scholarships. Through a partnership with Arizona State University, speech-language pathology students receive scholarships and specialized education related to early-intervention language and communication services. In return, graduates commit to work with young children with speech and language delays in Arizona for two years.

  • Student loan repayment and stipends. SLPs willing to live and work in underserved communities may receive up to $65,000 in student loan repayments and up to $21,000 in stipends (moving expenses, sign-on bonus, 12-month service completion, 24-month service completion, professional memberships, and continuing education). SLPs are the highest-priority category of clinicians eligible for this program, which also is open to physical therapists, occupational therapists, mental health specialists, and child psychologists.

History
As a program funded by a designated tax, First Things First was designed to be immune from economic fluctuation or shifting political winds. In 2009, however, in an effort to reduce the state deficit, the legislature attempted to transfer $7 million from the fund. That action triggered a lawsuit by First Things First, and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that voter approval was required to shift the money. Legislators then placed the issue on the 2010 ballot. Voters defeated the proposition, which would have sent the program’s $345 million balance to the general fund to help reduce the state’s $825 million deficit, with no restrictions on its use.
Demand for SLPs
So far, two SLPs have participated in the incentive program and are receiving loan repayments ($25,000 each). One also is receiving stipends ($18,000). Because the incentive program is fairly new, all eligible clinicians who have applied for incentives have received them.
“SLPs are priority therapists in most every participating region because of the statewide shortage of SLPs and the ever-increasing need for speech-language pathologists,” said Ana Marie Roscetti, program manager. “Therefore, if eligible SLPs apply, they are most likely to receive the awards when compared to the other eligible disciplines.”
For more information about First Things First and the incentive program, visit the First Things First website.
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September 2011
Volume 16, Issue 11