After I posted an article on the TSTA website about the huge expansion of free, full-day pre-kindergarten in New York City, a reader asked, “Why can this not happen here?” The answer is simple. Texas doesn’t have enough state leaders who are truly committed to pre-K or even to public education, for that matter.
New York City has a new, ambitious pre-K program because Mayor Bill de Blasio not only recognized the value of the program but also had the political will to see that it happened for an estimated 65,000 four-year-olds. He stands in stark contrast to the policymakers in the majority at the Texas statehouse, who love to give lip service to education but are more committed to ideological fanatics than they are to school children.
Gov. Greg Abbott made pre-K a so-called “priority” during the legislative session earlier this year. But he signed a very limited pre-K bill that doesn’t come close to meeting the state’s needs. It doesn’t even fully restore the $200 million that the legislative majority cut from pre-kindergarten programs in 2011 when it was slashing $5.4 billion from public schools.
And, even Abbott’s modest proposal had some rough sailing with many legislators after tea party ideologues attacked it as “socialistic” and “godless.” These know-nothing critics, you may recall, were members of an “advisory board” appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a self-proclaimed “education evangelist.”
In truth, according to several studies, low-income children (the majority of public school enrollees in Texas) are more likely to graduate from high school if they have been enrolled in pre-school programs.
For every low-income child who gets to enroll in a pre-K program under Texas’ new law, many others will be out of luck, and it doesn’t have to be that way. The Legislature had enough money last session to pay for a broader expansion of pre-K as well as improve overall public education funding. But the governor and the legislative majority chose to leave billions of your tax dollars sitting in the bank because right-wing ideologues demanded it.
Why can’t we increase educational opportunities in Texas?
We can, as soon as we start electing more legislators from both parties who truly want to improve education – beginning with a fair and adequate funding system — and have the political will to do so. That won’t be easy in Texas’ dominant political climate, but the next opportunity begins with the party primaries in March.