A new report from KIDS Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, places Texas in the bottom one-third of states for preschool enrollment. Though the rate of enrollment statewide is a low fifty percent, it's even worse among low-income children, with only 33 percent of low-income children in Texas actually enrolled in preschool. All told, there are 275,000 Texas children living below 200 percent of the poverty line who are not in preschool, meaning they're missing the opportunities their (disproportionately higher-income) peers are getting to begin their education. The disparities between these groups then continue to widen throughout their time in school.
Texas has close to 2.5 million children under the age of 5. According to the Texas Kids Count Data Center, over 650,000 of them are in poverty. Close to 250,000 of them live in households where no parents work. Around 440,000 of them are read to by their family members fewer than three days per week. While some of these children start to gain exposure to educational opportunities at an early age despite the disadvantages they were born into, the majority do not.
Meanwhile, in 2011, the Texas legislature eliminated a grant program that provided over $200 million for early childhood education, and they failed to restore the funding in the 2013 session. At the same time, 4,000 kids are being cut from Head Start as a result of sequestration.
There's more after the jump. According to Texas KIDS COUNT Director Frances Deviney,
“With more than half of Texas 0-8 year olds living in low-income families, it is imperative that our kids get a strong early start that helps counteract the effects of poverty and our failure to sufficiently invest in our kids. Texas' elimination of pre-K expansion funding and the impact of the federal sequester on Head Start programs leaves a huge early learning hole for the kids who need it most. You can't get returns on investments you don't make. And right now, we are actively cutting many of our investments in early childhood. That's penny wise and pound foolish for our kids and the long-term strength of our state.”
Every dollar invested in early childhood education produces a 7 – 10 percent return on investment, according to the KIDS COUNT report. That's because children who learn to read proficiently by the end of third great are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and begin careers, whereas those who do not feel alienated from school and continue to feel the repercussions throughout high school and beyond. But because of continually underfunded early childhood education, both at a state and federal level, Texas children (especially low-income children) are forced onto an unequal playing field before school even begins.