PreK funding needs a hero

Despite Gov. Rick Perry’s delusional denial, one of the more critical issues facing Texas’ public schools – and threatening the state’s future economic growth – is a school dropout rate that experts estimate at 30 percent or higher. Particularly affected are Hispanic young people who will soon make up a majority of Texas’ adult work force.

The reaction to this problem is one strong difference (among many) between Perry and his Democratic reelection opponent, Bill White. At last report, Perry was still claiming that the dropout rate was only 10 percent, a figure that even some of his staunchest, conservative political contributors don’t believe.

Perry not only denies the dropout problem, he also may have contributed to its continued growth with his veto last year of a bipartisan bill that would have expanded access to prekindergarten programs. The same experts who worry about the high dropout rate also recognize that one effective way of fighting it is to expand preK and other early childhood education programs. The earlier children, particularly underprivileged youngsters, get used to being in school, the more likely they are to stay in school and to graduate.

Perry either doesn’t understand that concept or simply chooses to ignore it, while Bill White has put the expansion of effective preK programs at the top of his education priorities list. As White repeatedly has pointed out – including in an interview with TSTA this week – Perry’s preK veto was a huge mistake.

Preschool programs also have been taking a hit nationally, according to a new study by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Blaming the recession, the study’s authors estimated that $348 million in state funding has been cut or proposed for cutting from preK programs in 19 states (excluding Texas) in fiscal 20102011.

Texas’ looming budgetary shortfall is all the more reason to put someone who actually wants to fight the dropout problem, rather than deny it, in the governor’s office.

Here is a link to the preK funding study:


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