Great Schools: Great Texas Part III – Great Start: Great Texas As Governor, Wendy Davis will

• • Ensure that every eligible Texas child has access to high-quality, full-day Pre-K. Promote early-childhood reading so that every student is reading at grade-level by the third grade. Every Texas child deserves a great academic start. Early childhood is the time for establishing learning foundations and for making sure that students from all backgrounds begin to establish the skills that will last the rest of their lives. Also, high-quality early education is the best investment Texas can make in a strong economic future. Demographer Steve Murdock of Rice University has projected that, if Texas continues on its current educational path, by 2040, 30% of Texans will lack a high school diploma and the average household income will be about $6,500 lower than it was in 2000.1 Fortunately, we know that the right education investments move Texas in the right direction.2 Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman has found that communities that invest in pre-K investment see higher graduation rates,3 higher overall earnings, and less spending on prisons and health care.4 Wendy Davis knows that high-quality early education is the best investment we can make in the future of Texas. When we give kids in Pre-K through third grade the language proficiency, basic math skills, and solid reading comprehension they need, there is no limit to how much those kids can achieve.

As Governor, Wendy Davis will ensure that every eligible Texas child has access to quality, full-day Pre-K The Proposal
• Wendy Davis believes in the critical importance of early childhood access to Pre-K. Therefore, as Governor, she will: o Ensure that school districts across the state are offering students high-quality, full-day Pre-K. o Expand eligibility for Pre-K programs beyond the most in-need students by implementing a sliding scale for families above the 185% federal poverty level.5 By means testing families with higher incomes and allowing them to participate at a sliding scale of payment, the program will provide access more students without greatly expanding its cost.

1 2

Steve H. Murdock et. al., The New Texas Challenge: Population Change and the Future of Texas, Texas A&M University Press (2003), 128. See, e.g., Steve H. Murdock et. al., Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge, Texas A&M University Press (2014), 132. (“[If Texas] can successfully educate [its growing population of minority students], it could have a younger and more competitive workforce than the nation as a whole. The challenge is providing the resources necessary to ensure that Texas students and workers are competitive in the increasingly international workforce of the future.”) 3 See, e.g., “Why All Children Benefit from Pre-K,” at 4 See (stating that each dollar spent at age 4 is worth between $60 and $300 by age 65.) 5 In 2013, 185% of the federal poverty level equals an annual income of $43,567 for a family of four.


o Work with the Texas Education Agency to establish a system of grants and special designation awards to support and promote the Pre-K programs that demonstrate the most effective preparation of children for continued learning. o Ensure the establishment of appropriate quality standards for Pre-K programs so that students are receiving the highest-quality instruction.

• Three- and four-year-olds who are proficient in English and who have access to a basic learning environment – being read to, practicing the alphabet, and learning numbers – will be best prepared to start school on the first day of kindergarten. The Texas Legislature recognized the importance of this foundation as early as 1983, when they decided to support families with children considered at risk of not being kindergarten-ready by requiring school districts to offer half-day Pre-K to eligible students.6 This requirement created Pre-K access for the children who were most in need: English language learners, military dependents, homeless children, foster children, and children from the lowest-income families. Thirty years later, Pre-K is one of the most popular and effective methods Texas has for establishing a learning foundation in young students. The program was so popular that the Texas Legislature created the PreK Early Start Grant in 2000, which provided funds for schools that wished to offer full-day Pre-K to the same group of eligible students. In 2011, when schools took a $5.4B in cuts and lost the $200M Pre-K Early Start Grant, many districts cut other programs so they could continue to provide some Pre-K services. The combined cuts to Pre-K in 2011 resulted in an approximately $288M cut to Pre-K for the 2012-2013 biennium. In 2013, the 83rd Legislature restored some of that funding, including $30M to the Pre-K Early Start Program. Unfortunately, this means that many children are not receiving the Pre-K instruction they need. Between 64% and 68% of low-income Texas children are not enrolled in Pre-K.7

6 7

Texas Education Agency at See Annie E. Casey Foundation, Policy Report: Kids Count – The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success at


As Governor, Wendy Davis will promote resources for early-childhood reading so that every student is reading at grade-level by the third grade. The Proposal
• To ensure that every Texas child gets the best possible academic foundation, Wendy Davis will: o Work to improve professional development and training so our teachers are equipped with the most effective techniques for maximizing reading comprehension.8 o Restore resources to school districts so that they can rebuild the community of teachers’ aides that was lost after the massive school funding cuts of 2011. ! Unlike some subjects, one person in front of a classroom of twenty to thirty students cannot teach reading effectively. It requires the ability to sit one-on-one with a student, and to provide him or her with personal guidance. Teachers’ aides are essential to that process.

o Encourage schools to actively promote early childhood reading through partnerships with community organizations and other collaborative approaches, such as encouraging older students to work with younger students on reading skills.

• Third grade is the key milestone year for reading comprehension. Reading on grade level at the third grade correlates with eventual high school graduation.9 Classroom curriculum becomes increasingly complicated after third grade. Students who miss this initial milestone may struggle to simultaneously make up lost ground and master the material of subsequent grades.10


“For 85 to 90 percent of poor readers, prevention and early intervention programs can increase reading skills to average reading levels. These programs, however, need to combine instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics, spelling, reading fluency, and reading comprehension strategies, and must be provided by well-trained teachers. […] These facts underscore the value of having a highly trained teacher in every classroom.” Id. (emphasis added). 9 See Annie E. Casey Foundation, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. 10 “There is a well-established correlation between prior knowledge and reading comprehension: students who have it, get it. Students who don't, don't. The differences are quantifiable as early as age 3, according to the landmark study by Hart and Risley. For some subgroups of students, the reading failure rate is even higher than their same-age peers: 52% of black students, 51% of Hispanic students, and 49% of students in poverty all scored "Below Basic" on the NAEP assessment. High-need students have chronic difficulty in the classroom, and teachers must be prepared to meet the challenges they face.” Reading Rockets, Top Ten Things You Should Know About Reading, at (2011).


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