An eroding educational foundation


In another indication of how badly state government is preparing for the future, a new study shows that Texas ranks in the bottom third of the states in the percentage of needy children who attend preschool. Two-thirds of low-income children in our state did not attend a preschool program from 2009-11, according to the latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This finding, as reported in The Dallas Morning News, hardly comes as a surprise, given the prevailing, short-sighted political climate in Austin. But the study nevertheless is significant for a number of reasons:

# The basic problem is this. Thousands of children attending Texas public schools are poor, and many don’t speak English very well, but they are a reality. They represent Texas’ future, and preschool programs offer most of them the best opportunity to learn how to learn in a classroom. How well they do in preschool can go a long way toward determining how well they will do in later grades — and beyond. When preschool isn’t there for them, their climb from poverty becomes more difficult, and Texas’ prospects for an adequately trained workforce in the very near future diminish.

# Yet, the most outspoken elements of the state’s business community remained largely silent while Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago. The cuts included a $210 million grant that would have helped school districts expand pre-kindergarten to full day programs. The Legislature restored about 80 percent of the cut education funding this year but, except for $30 million, didn’t restore the pre-K money.

# The legislative majority also ignored a state district judge’s ruling that the entire school funding system is unconstitutional because it is inadequate and unfair to poor districts. Meanwhile, public school enrollment in Texas continues to grow by 80,000 to 85,000 children a year, including thousands – perhaps a majority – of low-income kids who have never had an opportunity to be in a preschool program.

# Now, along comes Greg Abbott, the Republican heir-apparent to Gov. Perry, making his first alleged policy address. How would he prepare Texas for the future? By cutting, cutting — and cutting some more.

Abbott and legislators who are fascinated with and/or terrified of the right wing ideology that dominates Republican primaries – and ransacks public schools — need to quit gulping tea long enough to listen to people who actually do care about children, education and their roles in the Texas of tomorrow.

“It is imperative that our kids get a strong early start that helps counteract the effects of poverty and our failure to sufficiently invest in our kids,” Frances Deviney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities told The Dallas Morning News.

She is correct, but Abbott and the statehouse majority aren’t listening.



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