A report by Children At Risk and The Meadows Foundation released a study today that shows the lasting impact Pre-K can have on Texas children.

Pre-K in Texas: A Critical Component for Academic Success shows that access to Pre-K in Texas schools positively affects 3rd grade STAAR reading scores.

“Students who do well in 3rd grade are significantly more likely to do well in high school,” Children at Risk President & CEO Bob Sanborn said. “If they are doing very well in 3rd grade are significantly more likely to go on to college.”

The difference between doing well and doing very well, according to the study, is high-quality Pre-K.

The study began with 47,000 students in 17 school districts. After its initial findings, researchers focused on five major urban districts: Austin, Dallas, Houston, Ft. Worth, and San Antonio ISDs. Low-income students in those districts had 40% higher odds of reading at a college-ready pace if they attended high-quality Pre-K followed by high-quality K-3, when compared to their K-3 classmates who did not attend Pre-K.

The report was announced at the Pre-K 4 SA offices, highlighting the program as the avant-garde of high-quality public Pre-K in the state and country. Sanborn and Charles Glover, a senior program officer with the Meadows Foundation, praised San Antonio for realizing this before many other cities and voting to create Pre-K 4 SA in 2012.

“This report says the citizens of San Antonio were correct,” Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray said.

The gains of a high-quality Pre-K program do not diminish if followed by a high-quality K-3 program.

“It refutes some of the studies that promote a fade effect,” Glover said.

That fade effect is one of the arguments used against Pre-K investment. Critics claim that any gains experienced by even the most high-quality program will diminish over time. The study does acknowledge the need for high-quality K-3, but holding that variable constant, there was a statistically significant difference between those who did and did not participate in Pre-K.

In the study, “high quality” is measured by full-day programming with a student-teacher ratio of 11:1 (1o:1, according to some). These programs were necessarily funded at a higher level than half-day programs with higher ratios.

Right now, while Texas ranks high among access to Pre-K, it ranks 29th in Pre-K spending. This has led to Pre-K programs that meet only bare minimum quality standards, according to Raise Your Hand Texas.

The study found that when students participated in any Pre-k program their 3rd grade STAAR Reading scores were higher. Scores rose more dramatically when the children attended high quality Pre-K.

Right now, the State funds half-day Pre-K for low income students across the state. Realizing the value of a full-day program, 57% of Texas districts have found revenue to expand their programs to full-day.

“For us, this study is a game changer,” Sanborn said.

The study puts Texas-based data in the hands of lawmakers ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session. Children at Risk and the Meadows Foundation hope to see the $118 million in high-quality Pre-K funding provided by 2015’s HB 4 double to $236 million.

“Data shows that when kids do this high quality Pre-K it becomes the biggest bang for your buck,” Sanborn said.

To make these services truly universal, Children at Risk also calls for formula funding from the legislature to ensure the sustainability of high quality Pre-K. Philanthropic dollars are not enough. The programs need public investment, Glover said.

Children at Risk also recommends class size limits, teacher training, and coordination between databases and early childhood education providers. Sanborn said that they will be looking to House and Senate Republicans to carry bills that will put these measures in place. In the past the issue has seen support from both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Greg Abbott.

Critics say that the heavy emphasis on Pre-K treats the service like a “silver bullet” to end educational inequity. While everyone agrees that there is no such antidote, Pre-K has been proven time and again to be a sound investment.

“This is not a vaccine against poverty, but its a key building block in the struggle against poverty,” Sandborn said.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.