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Commentary: Pre-K education for children of military service members and reservists

By Susan Hoff, KERA 90.1 Commentator

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-522042.mp3

Dallas, TX –

"Strong bipartisan support" is a term I rarely hear applied to anything related to the Texas Legislature. But in the recent special session, both sides of the aisle were in full agreement on a new bill which will benefit the kids of servicemen and women across the state. Beginning this fall, all three and four year olds of active duty military and reservists along the children of those who have been injured or killed in action will be eligible to attend free public school pre-kindergarten classes. It seems like the least we can do for those who are serving our country.

Military life is tough on kids; constant moves, absent moms or dads (or sometimes both), and the underlying fear that they might never come home are just the way things are. And those fears, coupled with the fact that many military families don't even earn enough money to afford preschool tuition, make the need for this new bill crystal clear.

Consistency is important for all children. It's especially critical for those whose lives are generally unpredictable and often scary. Good early childhood education gives little kids a solid foundation for learning, along with the emotional support they crave.

Currently, Texas school districts are required to provide pre-k for four year olds who come from low-income or homeless families or those who can't speak English. Last year, about 176,000 four year olds filled Texas pre-k classrooms. The new mandate could add up to 5,400 more. Unfortunately, this sudden influx could spell trouble for some already overcrowded districts, especially those in large urban areas and those close to military bases.

Our public schools don't have enough classroom space to serve all the kids who are eligible for pre-k and we don't have enough money to build all the extra schools needed to serve them.

Additionally, there's growing public support to provide pre-k for all kids. A recent United Ways of Texas poll found that more than 70 percent of Texans support universal pre-k. Districts need to reach out beyond the schoolhouse doors in order to make room for the children of military families and the thousands of others who need but can't get into pre-k.

Community agencies, like Child Care Group of Dallas, are working with area school districts and the Texas Education Agency to come up with some creative solutions. For instance, placing public school pre-k teachers in neighborhood child care centers will open up additional classrooms without asking taxpayers for money to build more schools.

As uncertainties about logistics remain, I am certain that lawmakers have done the right thing - for the children of men and women who sacrifice so much for our country. Texas is the first in the nation to take this step. Let's hope the rest of the country will follow its lead - in providing this critical service to those who so bravely serve us.

Susan Hoff is president and CEO of Child Care Group of Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.

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