Texas completed an economic impact report in December 2003 that was overseen by the Texas Workforce Commission which manages the state’s child care subsidy program. Services are delivered through 28 local workforce boards.
Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition (TECEC) that began meeting informally in 2001 is now central to the work of developing a state system of quality ECE to better prepare young children for the future. The working group grew out of a conference on ECE sponsored by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in 2001. Legislators voiced concerns that they would not be able to pass good legislation if they were hearing too many different ECE agendas. Adopting the Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition as its name in 2003, the coalition has worked to create a unified message and serves as that common voice on early education. In 2003, TECEC partnered with the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University to create The Texas Plan: Public Policies to Build a Statewide Early Education and Development System for Texas (Texas SEEDS). The Texas Plan is a ten-year public policy agenda that guides the work of TECAC. The plan includes 50 public policy recommendations broken into 5 issue areas and 3 guiding categories. This plan is the blue print for all ECE efforts in the Texas. More than 40 presentations were made and hundreds of people offered comments on the policy recommendations. In 2004, a statewide summit was held to release the Texas Plan. A second edition of the plan was completed and released in 2005. Implementation of the plan is anticipated over a 10 year period. Successes have been realized in each legislative session since 2003. The coalition, housed by the Children’s Defense Fund, is in the process of establishing a 501 (c) 3. Currently more than 230 organizations from across the state are coalition members.
Using Economic Messages
The success of the TECEC is its focus on 4 areas of advocacy work: 1) research that defines the needs and provides state specific information; 2) public policy directed at moving good legislation forward and improving the ECE system; 3) public awareness activities that provides tools and templates for the public to speak on the issue; and 4) engaging community organizations that can invest significant time energizing parents and providers. The economic impact message has opened the door to pursue new conversations about ECE and pre-kindergarten education, especially with the business community. The economic impact message gives a strategic framework to consider the effectiveness of investments and build a bridge between pre-school and the larger ECE system.
Business leaders at IBM have written opinion pieces and worked with a large business group in the state to include ECE in their legislative platform. The message that investing now will save later has resonated with the group. Targeted efforts are being made to engage Hispanic business leaders, as they are the fastest growing segment of the business community.
The United Way of Texas is a strong partner and serves as a co-chair of TECAC. Every local United Way uses the economic impact message to talk about ECE with the public and business community. The message shows investment as a two way street that highlights the benefits of future action or the potential consequences of inaction.
In 2006, TECAC partnered with Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University to do a cost benefit analysis of a universally assessable pre-school program in Texas. The school is regarded as being fiscally conservative and their analysis still showed a 3.5 to 1 return on investment. This report has been very valuable in talking with policy makers and business leaders about making investments in ECE.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
United Way and TECAC have made 2008 the Year of the Parent. This campaign will include outreach and education to parents across the state and provide opportunities for them to engage directly with state policy makers. This will ensure that state legislators hear directly from parents about the importance of ECE. In addition, United Way has commissioned a voter survey to better understand the public’s position on pre-k education including attitudes on the current education system, resource investments in pre-k education in school and non-school settings, the role of government in making pre-k investments, and political support for state leadership willing to invest in pre-k education for Texas children.
The Talk of Texas Series on the Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition website highlights early childhood education efforts happening across the state of Texas in cities and communities.
The 2008 “Through the Eyes” public awareness campaign sponsored by TECEC will give 11 different perspectives about early education throughout the year. Each will highlight a different sector of the community and illustrate how those impacts link the community together. James Heckman provides information for the economic perspective and the Bush School of Government for the business perspective.
Raise Your Hand Texas is a bi-partisan group of business and community leaders dedicated to strengthening the public school system whose members include leading business CEOs. Challenges in securing qualified workers and commitment to a strong future market place has earned business support for early education. A universal state-supported full-day, pubic, pre-kindergarten program is among their legislative action items.
State and Legislative Actions
The Texas Legislature convenes every other year for approximately 140 days. Since 2000, there have been incremental steps and support for early childhood education. While the investment made in children by the business community is important, the size of the state and continued population growth in Texas require significant public sector investments to make a long term impact for all children.
In 2003, the Legislature passed the nationally recognized Texas Early Education Model (TEEM), the school readiness demonstration research project which includes a major focus on teacher education and training. This project was designed to encourage collaboration between the 3 government funded public and private child care programs that serve low-income and at-risk children. The 2005 session expanded the model and passed a bill that required a report showing how all the ECE delivery systems were being funded. It also allowed for the creation of an online tool to help parents to find ECE resources.
A special session in 2006 expanded eligibility in the pre-kindergarten program to include military children. In 2007, legislation passed that: 1) expanded the TEEM program by increasing reimbursement rates paid to child care providers who offer quality services, 2) provided professional development opportunities for ECE workers, and 3) expanded pre-k eligibility to foster care children.
Child care advocates, coalitions and partners are preparing for the 2009 legislative session in which they will advocate for a larger expansion of pre-k and advancements in the area of quality and provider qualifications.