Dallas Morning News
For Texas to meet its future education goals, we must invest in pre-K
by Jim Postl, Peter Beck and John Cullen | January 25, 2019
During his inaugural address, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “We will put our students on a pathway to having all third graders reading on grade level by the time they finish the third grade.”
We in the Early Matters community applaud this sentiment and urge our lawmakers to take action to make this sentiment a reality.
Our state set a goal that 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 will have post-secondary credentials by the year 2030; this initiative is called 60x30TX. It may feel like a long way off, but consider this: the graduating class of 2030 began kindergarten five months ago. How many of them were adequately prepared with a high-quality early education? And will it be enough to reach our goal?
The fact is college readiness begins with kindergarten readiness. Students who are not reading on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out. And kindergarten readiness is highly predictive of third grade reading – much more predictive than family income or any other demographic factor. If we want to improve postsecondary attainment, we have to start with our youngest students.
We encourage Texas legislators to seize the opportunity at hand to make a meaningful difference in early education outcomes by implementing the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s recommendations. The final report, Funding for Impact: Equitable Funding for Students Who Need It Most, was unanimously agreed upon by a bipartisan group of legislators, community members and rural and urban school district personnel. It contains a number of policy proposals that, if enacted, would have a direct and measurable influence on the lives of young Texans and their families.
The report wisely suggests creating a pre-k-through-12 statewide goal in alignment with 60x30: 60 percent or higher proficiency for critical academic gateways, including third grade literacy. Recognizing the importance of this crucial benchmark is an important first step to ensure new funding strategies address early education needs.
The commission demonstrated its dedication to equity in another major recommendation: the creation of the third grade reading allotment. This new funding mechanism would direct additional state funds, totaling $780 million per year, for every low-income and English language learning student in kindergarten through third grade. These funds would enable districts to provide full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten, in addition to other important initiatives such as early literacy interventions and personalized learning pilots.
The commission reinforced this statewide goal with several of its recommendations, including outcomes-based funding, which would reward school districts for every student that reads by third grade. The funding, totaling $400 million in the report, would also be distributed equitably: districts would see an even greater benefit from making sure low-income students reach this critical milestone. This investment would be provided immediately and allow districts to scale and expand promising practices in third grade and earlier.
In total, the commission is recommending investment of nearly $1.2 billion in improving literacy in the early grades. This is the best opportunity public education has had in years for substantial improvement and investment. Guaranteeing access to an excellent education for our youngest generation means we can create a brighter future for our entire state. It will require an investment on the part of our lawmakers and community members. The return on that investment is limitless.
Jim Postl is the former chief executive of Pennzoil and a member of Early Matters Houston, a coalition of businesses and nonprofit organizations focused on early childhood education.
Peter Beck is chair of the Beck Group and a member of Early Matters Dallas.
John Cullen is a partner with Capstar Partners and a member of Early Matters Greater Austin.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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