The “Texas Miracle” has become a common description for the state’s vibrant economy and successes. While we have much to celebrate, meeting the needs of our current workforce and providing our children with a solid educational foundation are critical to maintaining opportunity and potential in the State of Texas.
Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution that will create the best opportunity for educational success, while solving our most difficult workforce challenges — access to quality early education for all children. When you provide access to quality early childhood education across a community, you are overcoming both workforce and educational obstacles.
Employers face numerous challenges to recruit, train and retain top talent. One of the primary barriers for any parent in the workforce is lack of access to high-quality child care, which is an early learning program. High-quality child care can cost about $1,000 a month — if you can find it. This burdens families across the income spectrum, especially for those with multiple young children. A family with two children under the age of five could pay up to 30 percent of their household income for child care.
Improving a child’s life in the earliest years with early education is one of the smartest investments we can make for our youngest Texans. A child’s zip code should never be a predictor of future success; providing educational opportunity at the earliest age possible ensures we enhance every child’s future. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5, but our education pipeline is still not prioritizing education at this critical time from age 0 to 5. Throughout Texas, the lack of access to quality early childhood education comes at a significant cost to our students. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported only 59 percent of our children were kindergarten-ready. We are forcing many of our children to play catch-up before they even get started.
The best opportunity to develop a thriving workforce and build an educational pipeline starts with using Texas cities as laboratories for change in the early learning space. To promote this, Fort Worth is hosting teams from 20 of the largest cities in Texas. “Momentum 2018: Texas City Early Learning Summit” brings together city leaders from nonprofits, school districts, municipal government and philanthropy. This summit is about partnering with families for stronger children, a thriving workforce and improved educational outcomes.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to early education. We know best practices and innovative initiatives are happening in our major Texas cities and some of the smaller communities. We see a focus on improving the quality of early learning programs, extending access to more families, making the whole system more efficient and giving parents better skills as their children’s first and most important teachers.
Important efforts throughout Texas are enhancing quality early child care. In San Antonio, the collaborative PREK4SA, started in 2011 by then-Mayor Julian Castro, is now serving 25 percent of San Antonio’s four-year-olds in a high-quality full-day program. Fort Worth ISD is recognizing the value of universal free full-day pre-kindergarten by combining limited state funding and voter-approved bond funds, grants and a generous donation from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.
These are just two examples of numerous positive stories we see across the state. We want to build on the momentum in our communities to develop a master plan for education that begins the moment children are born. We will turn to the Texas Legislature in 2019, supporting important statewide efforts to prioritize early education. This includes support for Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to prioritize high-quality pre-kindergarten, and advocating to improve access to quality child care.
If you are worried about the workforce of tomorrow, look no further than at the infants and toddlers of today. The most efficient and cost-effective workforce training is to enhance and strengthen programs that serve our youngest children, birth to age five. There is no more important priority in Texas than the future of our children, and we are rolling up our sleeves to create the strongest educational foundation for our youngest Texans.
By: Betsy Price, Kara Waddell, and Libby Doggett