For Immediate Release
Contact: Peter Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dashboard Provides a Comprehensive View of Early Childhood Experiences in Texas, With Data on Early Learning, Health Care, Child Hunger, and More
Austin – A new online dashboard shows that Texas is falling short in a number of areas that are critical to school readiness — from preterm birth rates to child hunger and access to high-quality child care — and highlights steps state lawmakers can take during the upcoming legislative session and beyond. The new Texas School Readiness Dashboard provides the latest data in four early childhood areas that are proven to help children start kindergarten ready to succeed: Sufficient Household Resources, Positive-Adult Child Interactions, Good Health and Development, and Enriching Early Learning Experiences. The Dashboard is available at txreadykids.org.
“State legislators, business leaders, educators and other Texans have increasingly recognized that positive early childhood experiences — during the critical period of brain development from birth to age five — help determine whether a child arrives in kindergarten ready to succeed,” explained David Feigen, Director of Early Learning for Texans Care for Children. “The Dashboard gives Texas leaders, parents, and communities the tools to measure the state’s progress and set big goals for ensuring more of our kids will be ready when they start school. If state leaders want to make sure kids are school ready, not only do they need to continue to strengthen pre-k and child care, but they also need to address child hunger, access to health care, and other urgent early childhood issues.”
The Dashboard shows a number of challenges that are undermining school readiness in the state. For example:
Texas is outperforming the national average when it comes to check-ups for toddlers enrolled in Medicaid, although there is still significant room for improvement. In Texas, 24 percent of toddlers in Medicaid did not receive the recommended two or more well-child check-ups between ages 15 and 30 months, compared to the national average of 29 percent.
In response to the Dashboard, state legislators underscored the importance of focusing on early childhood to address school readiness.
“Those first few years of early childhood are so important. We need to ensure that during the first five years of life, every child has the experiences that support growing brains and bodies and provide the foundation for a strong future,” said State Rep. Angie Chen Button, Chair of the House International Relations and Economic Development Committee and Vice Chair of the House Early Childhood Caucus. Chair Button, who played a leading role in passing a package of child care bills during the 2021 legislative session, said, “Early childhood education and school readiness is not just a family issue, it’s an economic issue. The Legislature has taken important steps on pre-k, child care, health care, and other early childhood issues, and the data in the Dashboard is a reminder that we still have more work to do. Let’s make sure that more parents have access to high-quality child care and other resources so they can go to work and give their kids the support they need to be ready to succeed in school.”
“If we want kids doing well in reading, writing, and math in elementary school and beyond, then we need to pay more attention to what happens in their lives before they ever set foot in a classroom,” said State Rep. Diego Bernal, Chair of the Texas House Early Childhood Caucus. ”Improving access to health care, child care, nutrition, and parenting skills during the first five years of children’s lives will pay dividends when those kids arrive at school. The Dashboard points a way forward, gives us our marching orders, and tells whether or not we’re making real progress. The best way to honor the work that has gone into creating this tool and demonstrate our own commitment is to use it.”
The Dashboard also includes over 50 policy recommendations, including:
“Some kids show up ready to start kindergarten, but others haven’t learned to count to five or sing their ABCs yet,” noted Michele Hand, a teacher at Whitehouse ISD who provides reading and math intervention services to kindergarten and first grade students who are academically behind their peers. Mrs. Hand, who was previously a policy fellow with Teach Plus, said, “When this is the case, we are able to quickly identify which ones had the benefit of those enriching early childhood experiences and which ones did not. When our kindergartners don’t get the eyeglasses they need or haven’t had enough to eat or their parents don’t understand the importance of regular conversations and counting with their toddlers, these students enter kindergarten behind, and it’s a struggle for them to catch up. Once we are able to identify those children who are already falling behind at the beginning of kindergarten, we are able to provide them with intervention services and close the gaps. Unfortunately, some of the kids are still behind when they reach first grade, and that’s when we see those students begin to develop self-esteem problems, act out, and have difficulties with friends. If our communities and policymakers can help more parents get connected with programs that are available, I think we’ll see more kids coming into our kindergarten classrooms ready to shine. I’m planning to use the data in the Dashboard to help me advocate for my students, and I hope the Legislature will use it to help them advocate for kids across the state.”
After working with a wide variety of stakeholders across the state, Texans Care for Children launched the Dashboard with research support from the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center. The Meadows Foundation has played a critical leadership role in supporting the development of the Dashboard.
This project is also made possible by support from the Alliance for Early Success, the Episcopal Health Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., the Shield-Ayres Foundation, and the Powell Foundation.
Suzii Paynter March, immediate Former CEO Prosper Waco, emphasized the importance of the Dashboard and early childhood investments for developing the state economy, said, “In the business world, we always assess how to get a return on our investment. Investing in school readiness by investing in child care, health care, and nutritious foods are the wisest investments our state can make. When children are school ready, we develop a new generation who meet their potential, build businesses and contribute to an even stronger Texas economy. Making progress takes a plan. The Dashboard gives us a road map and an excellent way to gauge measurable progress along the way.” Ms. Paynter is a member of Ready Nation, which leverages the experience of more than 2,000 business executives to promote public policies and programs that build a stronger workforce and economy.
The Dashboard will be updated annually as new data become available.
Follow @TXreadykids on Twitter for additional data and updates from the Dashboard.