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Leaving Our Children Behind

This week, we mark two years since President Obama laid the framework to provide universal high-quality preschool for every single child in America during his State of the Union Address.
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This week, we mark two years since President Obama laid the framework to provide universal high-quality preschool for every single child in America during his State of the Union Address. Recently, the Department of Education released its first Preschool Development Grants. These grants are aimed to improve the quality and quantity of early education around the country. Eighteen states were chosen to receive the grants. Texas was not one of those states.

Texas lost out on up to $120 million in federal funding to help improve our pre-K system and the opportunity to add an additional 17,900 slots to serve our neediest young children. While the process was competitive, with 35 other states jockeying for funding, the failure to receiving funding lies with Texas' inadequate application and plans to push a political agenda, rather than help our neediest children. According to the Texas Education Agency, failing to acquire the grant or to make investments in full-time pre-K leaves almost 550,000 Texas children further behind than the rest of the nation.

The applicants for the grant were reviewed and scored based on how the states met the guidelines to increase access to high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. Texas was scored by one of the reviewers an astonishingly low 160 out of 230 points. Not only did the state not meet the minimum requirement of providing at least a 50 percent increase in preschool slots available to families, but they failed to address how they will continually fund the programs, and chose to include a controversial voucher system that takes away from public school funding.

What we need is an education system that works for every child, not a select few. This starts with providing a quality education for our youngest Americans so they can learn, grow, and become prosperous citizens.

Despite the state's failure to present a reasonable applicant for a Preschool Development grant, I am encouraged by Governor Greg Abbott's proposal to increase funding by $100 million in order to expand full-day pre-K. I am also inspired by the ambitious bi-partisan plan presented by State Representatives Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) to increase funding by $300 million. Both plans call for better curriculum, teacher training and assessments to ensure our children are performing at an appropriate level. The Johnson-Farney plan goes even further to prescribe stringent student-teacher ratios, better in line with what experts believe is the most conducive environment for learning.

In Congress, there are proposals that would increase pre-K participation and provide for direct funding to school districts. In the last Congress, my good friend and colleague Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced the Pre-K for the USA Act to allow local education agencies and city governments to apply directly for federal grants to develop and expand high quality pre-K programs.

It is clear that local investment in pre-K is also popular. A great example of local success is Fort Worth's passage of a $490 million bond to provide for universal pre-K. In the end, what we need is clear. We must provide an improved early education system so that all students have the opportunity to learn and reach their full potential. There are many paths to that goal, but we must work together to secure our children's future and provide a fair start for every child.

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