Pre-k: The right start for Texas students

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As state lawmakers prepare to tackle school finance in the 86th legislative session, many priorities for public education have bubbled to the surface in education policy debates. Among them is early childhood education, which has long been praised as a tool for equity.

At Texas Aspires, we believe high-quality early learning for at-risk students should be a state priority. Closing learning gaps early provides substantial opportunities for young learners by setting them on a path to rich academic experiences.

The case for pre-kindergarten

Making the case for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs isn’t difficult. For eligible students who attend free public pre-k, kindergarten readiness increases by 18 percentage points. Kindergarten readiness sets the foundation for a student’s future, increases literacy by third grade, and gives students a strong foundation to learn throughout the rest of public education.

In addition, pre-k provides important long-term outcomes for Texas students, such as a two-percent decrease in the likelihood of dropping out, a six-percent increase in on-time graduation, and a seven-percent increase in the likelihood of enrolling in college. High-quality pre-k also significantly reduces remediation in later grades.

Barriers to participation

Unfortunately, only two-thirds of eligible four-year-olds currently attend a free public pre-k program. Access and length of school days are substantial barriers to full participation. Approximately 150 school districts offer no pre-kindergarten opportunities. Of those that do, only about two-thirds offer a full-day option to families. Expanding access to full-day pre-k would likely dramatically increase pre-k attendance and student outcomes.

Making quality a priority

Experts at the National Institute for Early Education Research say quality is critical in the practice of early childhood education. Here’s what a high-quality pre-k experience looks like and which elements Texas has met:

In Texas’ search for quality in early childhood education, policymakers should keep focus on measurements of quality, including structured classroom observations, individual professional development plans and coaching, and program improvement plans. Making investments in early childhood learning is only as impactful as the quality of the pre-k programs Texas schools provide.

Pre-k in the 86th 

In the 86th legislative session, Texas Aspires will advocate for high-quality, full-day, formula-funded pre-k for students who need it most.

  • High-quality: As a state investment, quality should be a priority. Offering high-quality pre-k provides the maximum benefits to students.
  • Full-day: Full-day pre-k offers more learning experiences to children and makes pre-k a more viable option for working parents.
  • Formula-funded: To ensure continuity in pre-k programs, Texas should make funds available to districts in a consistent and predictable manner.
  • Available to students who need it most: Eligible students across the state should have access to a free, public pre-k option.

Making strategic investments in our youngest at-risk learners is a no-brainer for Texas. That’s why nearly 80 percent of Texans believe at-risk students should have access to a full-day of high-quality pre-K. While we’ve got the books open on school finance in 2019, let’s write in more opportunities for Texas students.

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We believe every Texas child, regardless of race, ethnicity or zip code, deserves a quality education. You can help make that happen.