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Commentary: State’s pre-K is critical to the success, future of Texas

Ask any businessperson if he or she would like to receive a proven return on an investment and the answer is likely to be “Yes!”

A large part of the business of Texas is educating children. Business is booming from the standpoint of having plenty of kids to educate — one out of every 10 children in the United States is born in Texas. However, from the results side, it is clear that we could be doing a lot better. Fortunately, as a recent study affirms, the path toward much better results is very clear. We just need to make the right investments.

A 2016 statewide study we recently published, funded by The Meadows Foundation and the Miles Foundation, shows any kind of Texas prekindergarten — half-day, full-day or quality pre-K that offers full-day programs, adequate funding and appropriate class size — followed by a high-quality K-3 education significantly helps economically disadvantaged students throughout Texas score higher on the third grade STAAR Reading exam by as much as 78 points.

Families, the business community, academic researchers and policymakers all especially understand the importance of pre-K for low-income children. For them, it is most often the very difference between academic success and failure.

Texas has improved the performance of economically disadvantaged students across the state reading at a college-ready pace in third grade by one percent from 2012 to 2015. The Meadows Foundation and Children at Risk study projects that performance would have increased by 16 percent if all economically disadvantaged students had attended pre-K (more than 18 percent for rural school districts, more than 17 percent for suburban school districts, and more than 15 for urban school districts.)

Sixty percent of the 5 million students across Texas are economically disadvantaged and research shows they’re more likely to drop out of high school and be unprepared for a post secondary education if they’re not reading on grade level in third grade. These students need quality pre-K programs to get ahead and be ready to learn in kindergarten. According to researchers, high-quality pre-K programs help our most vulnerable students stay in school and succeed long-term. Without pre-K, we ensure that millions of our children will not get the best education they need to fully participate in the future Texas economy and workforce.

From a business standpoint, it’s clear: pre-K offers one heck of a return on investment — and the consequences of failing to invest in our children’s futures are grim.

We Texans are practical people. We want to put our resources where they will do the most good and make the biggest difference. That is why our governor and Texans throughout the state recognize how critically important pre-K programs are. In his 2017 State of the State address, Gov. Abbott said, “Eighty percent of all voters agree: Texas should fund optional high-quality pre-K education.”

If you believe in evidence-based, proven research, if you want our tax dollars invested wisely, if you want to see exponentially improved test scores, it is time for your voice to be heard.

We as citizens and voters must strongly encourage the Texas Legislature to invest in public pre-K, sustain the previous funding of $118 million per year and sustain funding for the High-Quality Pre-K Grant Program at $236 million for the biennium. This is the only way to continue to give our children — including our most vulnerable students — a foundation for success.

Sanborn is the president and CEO of Children at Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy group.

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