This week marks the end of a productive legislative session in Austin. Motivated by local data and community input, this session the Commit! Partnership focused advocacy efforts on strengthening supports for early childhood education.

Advocacy efforts centered on two key problems. First, only 80% of our four year olds eligible for free district pre-K actually enroll, due to a shortage of seats, teachers and the lack of a full day option for parents who need it. We have an ACCESS problem. Second, only 55% of our Kindergartners one year later are judged “Kindergarten Ready” due to a lack of full day pre-K programs and sufficient teachers specifically trained in Early Childhood Education. We have a QUALITY problem.

To start addressing these problems, one success this session was the passage of HB 4, providing grant funding to districts whose pre-K program meets certain quality standards. The legislation allocated up to $1,500 per eligible pre-K student, with total funding capped at $130 million for the 2016-2017 biennium. The quality measures that a district must meet to access the grant funding include curriculum standards which meet the pre-K guidelines, a parental engagement plan, EC-specific credentialing or training of teachers, and measurement of student progress.

Equally important, HB 4 will also strengthen the availability of data at the district and campus level in order to help us effectively make the legislative case for additional funding in subsequent sessions. While the funding offered through HB 4 was not sufficient to implement high-quality, full day pre-K across the state (as offered by pre-K champions Rep. Eric Johnson in HB 1100 and Sen. Royce West in SB 1752), the creation of an annual Early Education Report will allow us to develop subsequent proof points of the value of high-quality, full day pre-K in the districts where it occurs. With this data in hand, Commit! and its partners will continue to fight to fund full day quality pre-K for our students next session.

On the other hand, HB 3836/SB 1810, which was sponsored by Rep. Giddings in the House and Sen. West in the Senate and designed to allow DCCCD to offer a baccalaureate degree in Early Childhood Ed if regional universities were unable to comprise a plan to adequate address our critical workforce shortage, fell short. Although this bill passed 144-0 in the House under the leadership of area Reps. Giddings, Koop, Anchia, Anderson, Meyer, Alonzo, Johnson, Rose, and Villalba, it did not come to a vote in the Senate Higher Ed committee. As a community, our Dallas County coalition of school districts, EC providers, business coalitions, foundations, non-profits, and Higher Ed institutions was unprecedented. While the failure of HB 3836/SB 1810 was disappointing, we will nevertheless continue to focus on what we can do to continue to bring the best-prepared educators in front of our region’s youngest, most disadvantaged learners, including laying the groundwork for successful passage of a similar legislative measure next session.

The active participation of Commit! partners and stakeholders across the county has positioned our region as one of the largest and most unified and consistent education voices in Austin this session. Together, we will continue to use data to identify and support policies that benefit our students and schools. Please reach out to Gretchen May and Libby McCabe with any questions.