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Third Annual Education Forum Underscores SA’s Need for High-Quality Pre-K

March 7, 2018
Emily Donaldson
Rivard Report

Even though Gov. Greg Abbott championed pre-kindergarten programming for young Texans in the past two legislative sessions, roughly one-quarter, or 6,000, of 4-year-olds  in San Antonio still don’t attend pre-K, according to Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray.

At Tuesday’s San Antonio Regional PK-12 Education Forum, early child educators spoke about the importance of pre-K, emphasizing the need for high-quality programs to bridge achievement gaps common in San Antonio and throughout the country.

This year’s forum, held at the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum, was the third annual event. The forum first organized in 2016 through a collaboration with energy executive Michael Burke, the San Antonio Area Foundation, and the Rivard Report. Tuesday’s event began with a breakfast for faith leaders, featured H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt receiving the Education Champion award, and ended with a panel of education leaders.

Luncheon keynote speaker Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), delivered a sobering message to the 700 city, education, and nonprofit leaders: Texas needs to do more to provide high-quality pre-K.

While Texas ranks 10th in the nation for enrollment of 4-year-olds in a pre-K or Head Start program, with 60 percent enrolled, the programming lacks sufficient quality to assure strong educational and developmental outcomes, Barnett said. NIEER assesses pre-K programs based on 10 different categories; Texas meets four benchmarks.

“Texas is one of the worst states in terms of meeting those [standards],” Barnett said.

Texas lags in this area because there are no limits on class size, and the state lacks strong professional development requirements, Barnett said. He cited Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, Vermont, and West Virginia as having exemplary programs without notably large budgets.

“How do places that do this pay for it?” Barnett asked. “Paying for it is really about public will … When politicians say, ‘We don’t have the money for that,’ they don’t mean they don’t have money. They mean they don’t have money for you.”