By Susan Dawson
The first priority of The Blueprint for Educational Change TM, our region’s strategic plan to build the strongest educational pipeline in the country, is that “All Children Enter Kindergarten School Ready.” Since the Blueprint’s adoption in 2008, concerted efforts have been undertaken to build and support readiness. E3 Alliance led the creation of Ready, Set, K!, the first student-centered, multi-competency standard for school readiness in the history of the state of Texas. Success by 6 has led a strong coalition of early childhood advocates, experts, parents, service providers, and business leaders in Travis County to put together an ambitious 3-year plan to fundamentally change the landscape of care for our youngest community members. This Action Plan is a strategic effort tied to the Blueprint Objective, also adopted by the Community Action Network, to increase the total percent of ready children to 70 percent by 2015.
Most recently, the Austin Area Research Organization (AARO) adopted a “Big Bet” focus to increase the number of eligible Central Texas students attending high quality Pre-K. In Texas, students are eligible to attend Pre-K if they are in a low income family, speak a language other than English at home, are in foster care, or have a parent in active military duty. Over 1,800 students, or 12% of those eligible throughout the region, are not enrolled in Public School Pre-K, Head Start, or other Pre-K in the year prior to Kindergarten. Getting those students enrolled in high quality Pre-K should have a return on investment to the region of about $30M per annual cohort of students.
Based on E3 Alliance studies using Ready, Set, K!, only about half of Central Texas Kindergarten students are Kindergarten Ready across a range of competencies. Low income students in Central Texas are increasing at an incredible 3 ½ times the national low income student growth rate, and these students are three times less likely to be ready than their non-low income peers.
After taking into account other relevant factors (e.g. income, gender), the odds a student is ready for Kindergarten is more than 4 times higher if the student utilized a Pre-K program than if s/he did not. So AARO leaders decided that it’s a “no-brainer” to find those ~1,800 students in our region who are eligible for school district Pre-K but are not attending and help get them enrolled. With an ROI of $30 million, we’d be foolish not to work together on this. Because education truly does equal economics.