Pre-Kindergarten bills in the legislature

This was printed in the “Sounding Off” section of the Dallas Morning News on Feb.13. The question was “What do you think of pre-K in general, and of State Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Houston) bill?”

House Bill 4, filed by state Rep. Huberty, is a good bill, as it increases funding for half-day pre-K programs in Texas. A competing bill, House Bill 1100, filed by state Rep. Johnson, however, would fund full-day pre-K, and is in my opinion a better bill. Both bills require adherence to state standards, establish teacher requirements, and call for evaluations of student progress and parental involvement.
As things are now, the state of Texas spends upwards of $800 million on the 228,000 students enrolled in pre-K. While $800 million seems like a large sum, we should bear in mind that the Texas legislature cut $5.4 billion from the education budget in 2011, and that those cuts triggered a lawsuit against the state by 600 school districts. Implementing House Bill 1100, co-authored by representatives of both political parties, would cost about $300 million, at a time when the Texas legislature is considering  $4.5 billion in tax cuts.
It all boils down, as usual, to the kind of society we want to be. It is well established that early childhood is a critical time for brain development. Full-day pre-K is critical for children whose families have a difficult time providing them with the resources they need to be ready for grade school – whether because of limited financial resources or limited English. It does not make sense to allow those kids to fall behind, as the state of Texas has a vested interest in having a well-educated population capable of sustaining a robust economy. It seems to me, then, that the obvious choice is to finance full-day pre-K.
Marie-Anne Schiffmann, Rockwall
I usually find it worthwhile to read all responses, including those that I disagree with.
Among other responses, one mentioned that testing pre-K students was folly – I wholeheartedly agree. Two responses provided testimonials in favor of pre-K programs. Two other respondents seemed contemptuous of pre-K in general. One called it “Common Core in diapers.” One of their main objections seems to be the standardization of education – I would argue that some degree of standardization is a prerequisite for measuring progress. A qualified teacher can find the golden mean and respect general rules while finding room for creativity and individuality. That is why we need to keep an eye on curriculum and pay teachers enough that the profession attracts the best and brightest.
Sometimes it is also good to have arguments at the ready to rebut views that stand in the way of progress. A particularly noxious response called the program “baby-sitting”, and objected to it as a burden on Texas taxpayers which would benefit primarily lower-income and limited-English families. It is, in the view of the author, “a social welfare project.” The author also argues that “With a record number of women not working, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, surely at-home mothers can take care of their pre-K kids.”
I think that view is unsustainable. Many families nowadays cannot make ends meet on one salary. Staying at home is a valid choice, but it is not always a choice, and for some, a second salary might not cover the cost of child care. That is particularly true of low-income families and families with limited English. To be particularly harsh, one could argue that they have no business having children, then!
Well…. in this case we need to take a look at Japan. The Japanese government, confronted with an aging population and low birthrates, decided that it would make sense to provide families with subsidies for child care. Doing so would encourage both higher birth rates and increased participation of women in the workforce and the Japanese economy. Europe reached the same conclusion.
The United States is in the middle of a “silver avalanche”. Baby boomers are leaving the workforce. It makes sense to enable today’s young adults to develop their talents and fill the void by providing them with decent child care options. Pre-K is a step in the right direction.
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