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Tim Judson on April 14, 2011 - 12:04pm
Public education and child advocates in Texas have found an uncommon ally in this year’s budget debates: the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the largest business advocate in the state. A budget bill passed by the Texas House of Representatives on April 4 included dramatic cuts to education, providing $8 billion less funding than state law requires. Among the most austere provisions is the complete elimination of state funding for pre-kindergarten programs. TAB published a report making the case that quality public education is vital for the state’s economy, and that pre-kindergarten programs in particular actually help contain education costs in the short term. Association president Bill Hammond said, "If we don't have an educated workforce, the jobs will leave. We are not meeting the needs of the future."
The TAB report, entitled “Dream Big Texas: Quality Pre-K Education is a Prerequisite for Prosperity,” argues that the growing wage gap between jobs that require higher education degrees and those that do not makes investment in public education “crucial” to the state’s long-term economic prospects. The report notes that pre-kindergarten instructional materials have not been updated in ten years, and that 83% of Texas residents want full funding for textbooks and materials maintained in the budget. TAB’s research finds that pre-kindergarten programs will result in increased earnings of $19 billion for today’s early learners and $9.9 billion in savings on incarceration and other crime-related costs. In total, the future financial benefits would amount to $850 million per year over forty-five years.
In the report, Hammond sums it up this way:
We cannot turn a blind eye to the role that early childhood education plays in the long-term prosperity and workforce readiness of Texas. Our future prosperity is fundamentally linked to the educational foundation that high-quality Pre-Kindergarten provides through teachers, tools, textbooks and other important resources.
The report also cites research by a team at Vanderbilt University on the impact of early childhood education programs in Tennessee. The researchers found that children in pre-kindergarten programs experienced vastly improved learning skills over those who did not attend. In vocabulary, literacy, and comprehension skills, students in public pre-k programs improved at rates between 98% and 145% greater than other children before entering kindergarten. And in basic math skills, those enrolled in pre-k nearly doubled their rate of improvement (63% higher versus 33%). Overall, students enrolled in pre-k benefit from an 82% advantage in developing basic learning skills.
The unity of business and public education advocates in a state such as Texas is a bellwether for debates on schools and teachers in other states. Texas, currently viewed by many as the model state for conservative economic and tax policies and which has one of the lowest rates of union representation among public employees, is also suffering from perhaps the starkest budget deficit in the country, putting lie to the absurd notion that compensation for teachers and firefighters is driving state budget shortfalls. With little left to cut, and a refusal to consider revenue solutions, Texas’ extreme economic policies have revealed the far-right wing agenda for what it is, and convinced even lobbyists for big business that a different approach is needed.
Conservatives in states like Idaho and Tennessee have specifically scapegoated teachers and their collective bargaining rights for the state’s fiscal shortfalls in order to shift attention away from the real impact that defunding public education will have on economic opportunity for children and, ultimately, state economies. In Texas, where teachers have no collective bargaining rights to repeal, lawmakers are literally willing to cut off their state’s nose to spite its face. But in view of the larger trend of cuts to education, it is clear that the “common sense” view among lawmakers who are only willing to cut their way out of deficits is that no price is small enough for businesses and the wealthy to pay for the basic necessities of an economy that works.
Full Resources from this Article
Texas Association of Business – Dream Big Texas: Quality Pre-K Education is a Prerequisite for Prosperity
This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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