High-Quality Pre-K in Texas Matters

In 1985, the Texas Legislature began funding prekindergarten for eligible children.  Over the years, our state has seen a significant return on that investment.  A recent analysis of eligible Texas students who participated in public Pre-K in 1999 showed them today persisting in college at a 6.8 percent higher rate than their peers who were eligible, but did not attend public Pre-K.

As Commissioner of Education, I know that prekindergarten in Texas matters. It is a critical component of a public education system that prepares future generations for success in life. Studies show that fewer than one in five children reading below grade level in third grade will go on to college. A focus on early childhood education will place our students on the road to success by giving them the reading and math tools they need.

That’s why the State currently invests more than $800 million of taxpayer money each year in public Pre-K classrooms to help provide more Texas children – particularly at-risk children – an opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond.  

Some have argued that academic improvements achieved in Pre-K aren’t lasting.  While we do see fade out on test score gains in lower quality programs, long term impact can still be quite strong.  Texas has already seen an impact on college persistence.  And research from Tennessee has shown that moving from a lower quality to a higher quality early childhood classroom can raise average future earnings by $1,000 per year per child, even when test score gains fade out.  Test score gains are a good sign, but income gains truly matter.

Given this, there are additional steps we can take to ensure an even greater return on our current investment. First, we must work to ensure that children attend prekindergarten programs that include high quality standards. In turn, we need to make certain they enter schools that are ready to leverage the gains made in Pre-K and sustain them through third grade – and beyond.  Texas is taking steps to do both.

Under the leadership of Governor Greg Abbott, the legislature passed and funded the High-Quality Pre-K Program in 2015. Before this program, there were no prekindergarten curriculum requirements, dedicated teacher training or progress monitoring requirements. This doesn’t mean the old approach to Pre-K in Texas wasn’t quality, but it does mean there weren’t any systemic incentives to encourage smarter spending and best practices that help children succeed.  

Thanks to the initial $118 million in grant funding approved last session, those high-quality standards are now in place for more than 85 percent of the 185,000 eligible four-year-old prekindergarten children in communities across the state. Most of these children are from economically disadvantaged, homeless, foster or military families.

Those grant funds have been a catalyst for change. In just one year, we’ve seen a near-doubling in the number of teachers receiving early childhood training, a near-doubling of effective progress monitoring practices, and major increases in schools participating in quality program design, including a reduction in student-teacher ratios.

Just as important, this grant program stressed effective family engagement as an essential component. Such engagement recognizes the truth that parents are a child’s first teacher, and empowers them as full partners in education from the child’s earliest years. 

Yes, high-quality prekindergarten does matter. I am proud of the gains Texas has achieved so far, and the Texas Education Agency remains focused on this critical need to help ensure that even more of our children reach their full potential.

Commissioner Mike Morath
May 19, 2017

NOTE: A version of this blog posting has appeared in some Texas newspapers. To view additional information on the points cited by the Commissioner regarding pre-kindergarten in Texas, visit the Texas education Agency website at http://tea.texas.gov/Academics/Early_Childhood_Education/Data_and_Reports/.