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More on Early Matters

Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Houston and also the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership Education Advisory Committee, pens an op-ed about the importance of pre-kindergarten and the latest effort to provide for it.

It’s hard to believe, but more than 60 percent of children in Houston start kindergarten lacking basic letter identification skills and almost 80 percent are challenged with number recognition. Additional research shows that a student who can’t read at grade level by the end of the third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.

Those facts are concerning in and of themselves. But here’s why we all need to pay attention: Our job market is booming. But 60 percent of new jobs coming to Texas will require education beyond a high school diploma, and our state ranks last in high school graduation rates. Only 1 in 5 Texas children will earn a post-high school credential.

Quite simply, our region’s growth and expansion will be stifled if we cannot supply quality candidates to fill these jobs over the longterm.

Because the challenge is so great, local business leaders, educators and nonprofit organizations formed a broad-based coalition called “Early Matters.” The group has a singular focus: ensuring that our children are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.

The group has set a 10-year vision that is predicated on being collaborative and inclusive – both of people and ideas.

Our approach is necessarily broad – all phases of child development leading to third grade need to be addressed. And while some of our plan calls for innovation that could pool existing resources, or make them work more efficiently, yes, achieving the goal will take money. A good plan that can’t be funded won’t make a difference.

See here for the background. Early Matters doesn’t appear to have its own webpage yet, but there is this page off the Greater Houston Partnership website, which contains a fact sheet and the press release of their announcement that they exist. I’m sure there will be more to come. This is all still very much at the high level stage, with most of what they’re talking about being the need for early childhood education solutions and not much yet about what those solutions will be. I’m glad they’re making the need to pay for something that will be effective and make a difference a key component of their early push, because that will be the greatest challenge. But how bug that challenge ultimately will be is not set in stone.

In the 2011 legislative session, $200 million was cut from pre-K programs. $30 million in funding was restored in 2013, but full restoration of these cuts is needed.

The ultimate goal of the Early Matters coalition is expanding to statewide, full-day pre-K. However, we know this will require substantial funding and additional time to ensure effective planning and implementation.

Just as a reminder, Greg Abbott’s big idea for pre-k comes with a $118 million price tag, which is to say that his fully funded plan for the 2016-2017 biennium would represent at most sixty percent of what the Legislature cut from pre-k spending in 2011. Wendy Davis, on the other hand, is proposing that school districts across the state offer full-day pre-K programs, which is to say exactly what this effort is pushing for. I recognize that an effort like Early Matters needs to be bipartisan, and I recognize that there are plenty of Republicans that support fully funded, quality pre-kindergarten programs. I just hope that the people that support Early Matters recognize that they can make their jobs easier if they want to or they can make their jobs harder. It’s their choice.

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