As the new school year gets underway, we at Raise Your Hand Texas want to applaud Texas lawmakers for all they did during the 2019 legislative session to support our public schools. Legislators passed several key bills, allowing our state to take an important first step toward a better-funded, more equitable system. But it must be the first of many steps if we hope to achieve the high expectations we have for our students and our future as a state.
For more than a dozen years, our organization, along with many other business and education groups across the state, called for investment in high-quality, full-day pre-K for students who need it most. Legislators deserve special recognition this session for funding full-day pre-K for our youngest at-risk learners. As a result, school districts are already enthusiastically transitioning to full-day programs through the use of the early education allotment, which allows for full-day pre-K funding and reading supports for early grades. The new legislation also calls for every K-3 classroom teacher and principal to complete a reading literacy academy and requires every aspiring EC-6 teacher to pass the Science of Teaching Reading certification exam.
Dr. Eric Wright, superintendent of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District said the funding for pre-K is a game-changer. The district went from seven campuses offering half-day pre-K to 11 campuses offering full-day pre-K within a matter of months.
“I feel like we won the Super Bowl. To me, this is the great equalizer. We’re leveling the playing field for all. ... It’s monumental for the state of Texas.” — Dr. Eric Wright, superintendent of Hays CISD
The research is clear: quality, full-day pre-K provides a level playing field and a strong foundation for student success in learning, literacy, and life. Focusing on our youngest learners is the best return on investment we can make in public education. Kindergarten-readiness is one of the strongest predictors of third-grade literacy, and literacy rates are directly related to graduation rates and workforce readiness.
“They just have so much time to learn,” said Megan Cadenhead, a pre-K teacher at Carpenter Hill Elementary School. “How to work out conflict and how to be a good friend and what big school expectations are … I need that full day for the full year to get them ready for kinder.”
Parents are excited too. Adam Benthall, a pre-K parent, said he’s already seeing his son’s curiosity and engagement with the world around him start to flourish.
“He’s now getting to be part of a family at school,” he said. “He’s really able to learn those soft skills — those things that are so important for him to be able to be successful later on in life. Those are the things that happen with a full-day program.”
Moving forward, Raise Your Hand will continue to be a strong voice for early childhood education and other critical initiatives to improve opportunities for all Texas students. In addition to early childhood issues, we must strengthen our education pipeline to place a high-quality teacher in every Texas classroom. We also must continue to improve instruction and expand innovative programs so students have the skills and opportunities required for success in college and career.
The stakes are high for Texas. We must commit to continued investment and improvement for the sake of our communities, businesses, and economy. We must make every session an education session for our students, our state, and our future — because the future of Texas is in our public schools.