Changes in Participation

Changes to Quality First Participation and Program Benefits

Thank you for your commitment to quality through your participation in Quality First, a program of First Things First (FTF). Federal COVID-19 relief funding allowed Arizona to invest in child care by temporarily expanding participation in Quality First (QF) and increasing scholarship rates to help families access quality care. Due to federal time limits, these federal funds are set to end on June 30, 2024, and will affect program participation and benefits.

With COVID relief funds sunsetting across the state, there are many challenges facing the early childhood sector. We understand and acknowledge the challenges associated with the end of federal funds. Virtual information sessions will be available to help support you during this transition.

Thank you for all that you do for Arizona’s children and families.

Expansion-funded programs will transition to a new status.

Beginning on July 1, 2024, programs that joined Quality First through temporary federal pandemic relief funding, known as expansion-funded programs, will transition to one of three statuses. All expansion-funded programs will be notified about their transition by the end of May. You can find your funding source on the profile summary of the extranet. Your QF coach and child care health consultant will work with you to ensure a smooth transition.

1. FTF Regional Funding:

Some programs will move into FTF regionally-funded Quality First openings as they become available. Selection is limited and will be based on regional funding availability and FTF priorities—with an emphasis on programs serving children in high-need communities.

2. External Funding:

A limited number of programs will be able to continue their participation through an external funding option as a part of their participation in the Preschool Development Grant or High-Quality Early Learning program through the Arizona Department of Education.

3. Waiting List:

Programs that are not moved to regional funding or funded externally will be placed on a waitlist until there is an opening through FTF regional funding. Programs will receive resources and a newsletter aimed at sharing free or low-cost opportunities to support them in their continued quality improvement journey.

Increased scholarship reimbursement rates will continue, but available scholarships will decrease.

FTF’s state Board voted to raise the reimbursement rates for Quality First Scholarships to align with the 2021 cost of quality study. Since November 2022, this difference between Quality First scholarship rates and the cost of quality has been paid with federal funds to participants who are contracted with DES. In August 2023, FTF’s state Board voted to continue funding scholarships at this higher rate after federal funding ends in recognition of the current cost of quality child care and to help maintain quality environments.

The increased reimbursement rates for QF Scholarships at the cost of quality will maintain the rates paid throughout this year, which is between 33% to 118% (depending on the age groups served) higher compared to pre-federal funding rates. The FTF regional partnership councils invest significant funding to support QF Scholarships and will continue their investment of over $40 million across the state. However, the increased reimbursement rates will result in fewer QF scholarships.

Access to Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (ECMHC) will continue.

Early childhood mental health consultation for early care and education providers will continue to be available through FTF regional funding in the following FTF regions: Cochise, Coconino, East Maricopa, Graham/Greenlee, La Paz/Mohave, Navajo Nation, Northwest Maricopa, Phoenix North, Phoenix South, Pima South, Pinal, San Carlos Apache, Southeast Maricopa, Southwest Maricopa, Yavapai and Yuma.

However, availability is limited. Contact Southwest Human Development Smart Support Program at 1-866-330-5520  to find out if there are available slots to enroll in ECMHC through FTF regional funding.