Commentary: Don’t mess with Texas’ future; fund high quality pre-K

Texas is an economic powerhouse. Not only that, if demographics are destiny then Texas has a dazzling future because one in every 10 children born in the U.S. is born in our great state. However, between these two positives lies a great disparity. We need well-educated future workers to continue driving the engine of our economy.

High quality pre-K produces a proven, well-researched return on all of our state’s educational investments from kindergarten through college. The answer to maintaining our high-performing economy is to put Texas first. We can do this by investing in high quality pre-K.

This is why we join Gov. Greg Abbott in his call to ask the Texas Legislature to make good on its promises to support not just pre-K but high-quality pre-K. This means more and better early education for low-income kids, kids in the foster care system and the children of our families serving in the military. But will the Legislature listen?

It is easy to identify hot-button issues at the Texas Capitol — just look for the fights. For the second session in a row, big battles are brewing around pre-K. In recent days, the rhetoric around pre-K funding has heated up, with the major political players proposing vastly different funding proposals or perhaps no funding at all.

Texas has the largest pre-K program in the United States with more than 200,000 children participating daily. Abbott campaigned on boosting pre-K quality in 2014, and in 2015 the Legislature passed a bipartisan bill to fund and improve pre-K. Now, that funding has been exhausted and the fight for our children’s future has begun anew.

The governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus all included funding for quality pre-K in this year’s initial budget proposals. The thousands of parents, advocates, business people, clergy, philanthropists and so many others who came to the Capitol to voice their support for pre-K had been heard. Or so it seemed. In recent days, the Texas House of Representatives has backed off its proposed funding for the governor’s pre-K initiative.

Our state’s leaders must come to an agreement to put Texas first and continue our state’s commitment to high quality pre-K. This means a commitment to allocate $118 million per year for a total of $236 million to the high-quality pre-K grant program.

In a session focused on improving the state’s foster care system, it is counterproductive to reduce the quality of the pre-K provided to prepare our most vulnerable children for school. In Texas, where self-reliance is considered one of the greatest virtues, it is wrong to rob children of the resources they need to grow into successful, autonomous adults. In a state that honors the sacrifices of our veterans, we need to be at the forefront of serving the families of those who serve.

Parents and taxpayers understand that higher quality pre-K in turn maximizes every dollar that is spent on further education, all the way up through college. When we put ourselves first, we prepare ourselves for the future. When we put Texas first, we ensure that in years to come, we will have educated and productive citizens ready to help expand our economy.

The Texas Legislature has a clear choice to make with respect to allocating $236 million to the High Quality Pre-K Grant Program. The choice it makes will determine whether Texans will remember the 2017 Texas Legislature for its divisions, arguments and neglect — or as the year it started putting Texas first.

Sanborn is CEO of the Texas-based research and advocacy group Children at Risk and the executive editor of the Journal of Applied Research on Children. Jones is the CEO of Core Midstream LLC and serves on the Board of Children at Risk.

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