The state House Public Education Committee at its Tuesday meeting heard strong testimony in support of full-day pre-K from Texas AFT and many other early-childhood-education advocates, including Montserrat Garibay, vice-president of our Education Austin affiliate in Austin ISD. Texas AFT legislative spokesman Ted Melina Raab testified in favor of moving further and faster in the direction of full-day pre-K for all with effective class-size limits, student-to-staff ratios, higher quality standards, and secure funding.
All five of the main bills before the committee aiming to change state pre-K policy included worthy features. HB 173 by Rep. Carol Alvarado, Democrat of Houston, would require district reporting to the state on class sizes, student/staff ratios, and assessments in pre-K programs. HB 296 by Rep. Gene Wu, Democrat of Houston, would set class-size caps, student/staff ratios, and higher qualifications for pre-K instructional personnel. HB 424 by Rep. Harold Dutton, Democrat of Houston, would require the state to provide full-day funding for pre-K for all students in the categories currently eligible (essentially, at-risk pupils) for half-day pre-K funding only. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, Republican of Humble, would provide competitive grants to fund more half-day pre-K for districts that meet certain quality standards. HB 1100 by Rep. Eric Johnson, Democrat of Dallas, and Rep. Marsha Farney, Republican of Georgetown, would provide full-day pre-K funding for districts that meet “gold standard” requirements for their programs.
Texas AFT’s testimony lays out the criteria we will use to gauge progress toward pre-K expansion as all these bills continue to be considered in the House Public Education Committee:
The members of Texas AFT and those of our national affiliate have long taken a very strong interest in prekindergarten and we are pleased to be able to share with the committee some of our knowledge and views. On behalf of Texas AFT, I am testifying today in support of high-quality prekindergarten programs implementing practices that are guided by recognized research and the hard-earned experience of early childhood educators. I have specifically registered in support of HB 173 by Rep. Alvarado, HB 296 by Rep. Wu and HB 424 by Rep. Dutton. I am also testifying on HB 4 by Rep. Huberty and HB 1100 by Rep. Johnson and Rep. Farney.
The many immediate and long-term benefits of high-quality early childhood education include better higher-order thinking and attention skills, improved social skills, stronger oral literacy, reading, writing and math abilities, higher graduation rates and a smaller achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Well-regarded studies have shown that high-quality early childhood programs both increase the likelihood that children will gain higher levels of cognitive and social skills and become successful students and productive citizens and reduce the chances that they will drop out of high school, become dependent on welfare or be incarcerated. It is estimated that high-quality early education can save anywhere from $7 to $16 for every dollar invested by increasing high school graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy and reducing crime. Such programs also promote higher lifetime earnings, further increasing the return on investment.
Too many of our current policies and practices do not reflect what is known about child development—particularly what has been learned in the last decade about brain development and the critical role that systematic exposure to high-quality learning opportunities plays in future development and academic abilities. Key elements of high-quality prekindergarten include: full-day instruction; small classes and low student to staff ratios; and teachers and educational aides with specific training in early-childhood education.
Texas AFT’s ultimate goal of high-quality full-day prekindergarten for all children is one of the best investments Texas could make, although we may have to reach that goal incrementally. Obviously, cost is a significant issue, but restoring funding to the fiscal 2008 level—$611 per pupil higher than today, adjusted for inflation—would give us room to get there.
It is important that our prekindergarten policies promote only developmentally appropriate testing—prohibiting standardized state testing. Young children need opportunities to engage in active, age-appropriate, play-based learning, which research shows has important educational and social benefits. Years of research demonstrate that the best way to assess young children’s learning is through the expertise of teachers who know how to observe and interpret children’s activities and behavior. All assessments in prekindergarten should help teachers focus on children’s natural developmental progressions and variations, and be used to help teachers better support children’s learning. Standards for early education should reflect what decades of research in neuroscience and cognitive and developmental psychology tell us about how young children learn by allowing only developmentally appropriate testing.
Our state will be able to flourish in the 21st century and beyond when Texans are able to succeed in the workplace and the community through a quality education, starting with high-quality prekindergarten. Texas AFT will work with this committee to move forward on this issue.