Education Commissioner Mike Morath has stated that the average student entering kindergarten is 12 to 18 months behind.
It takes at least six years of excellent teaching for those children to catch up and be on grade level.
The cost of remediation is enormous, and children trying to catch up can be a detriment to the other children who come to kindergarten prepared to do that level of work.
Full-day quality Pre-K for every child who currently qualifies for public Pre-K should be implemented in Texas. That investment will pay dividends for decades into the future.
Make no mistake, these Pre-K programs must be of the highest quality. We are not talking about extending nap time or other non-instructional activities.
While he shouldn’t necessarily dictate curriculum, the education commissioner should be given the authority to set rules to measure the effectiveness of curriculum and professional development.
Currently, children living below the poverty line, children in the foster care system and the children of military families are all eligible for public Pre-K.
There is a debate whether we should expand the current public Pre-K program beyond those groups.
At this time, we believe expanding the program to full-day for every child currently eligible is the place to start. These are the children who need the most help.
Long-term studies of children who attended a quality Pre-K program show they are more likely to stay in school, graduate from high school and attend college.
They also make more money over their lifetime and are less likely to be unemployed or end up in prison later in life. That could mean breaking the cycle of poverty in the next generation of a family.
This should be considered an investment in our children and in the viability of our future workforce.
Research quoted in the Children At Risk report, “The State of Pre-K,” shows that high-quality Pre-K, including full-day programs and small classes, produce higher returns on taxpayer investment.
We will spend far less on remediation of students in elementary and secondary grades, and even at the college level, if these students start out on grade level and stay there.
If our students start behind, they are constantly catching up.
We allow too many children at the third- and eighth-grade level to keep going in the system while not performing at grade level.
We even allow children to graduate without showing they have mastered the skills necessary to get a good job or attend college. One way to attack this problem is to give every child an equal start.
Texas’ Pre-K program already has a history of success. We have seen increased scores on math and reading standardized tests by students who have attended Pre-K.
We also have seen reductions in the likelihood these children will need special education services in future grades and reductions in the chance that these children will be retained in future grades because of failure.
Last session, the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott took an important step to expand Pre-K education in Texas.
The governor made Pre-K an emergency item, and the Legislature delivered House Bill 4 to address that emergency.
It is now time for our state leaders to fund full-day Pre-K for those who qualify.
If we do this, the likelihood of success of all Texas students will improve, not only for those who are doing well, but for those who need our help.
Bill Hammond is CEO of the Texas Association of Business.