In Texas, 15,096 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs, and 32,906 3-year olds and 42,313 4-year olds are enrolled in Head Start programs. Overall, 52 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state-funded early learning program. This number is particularly impressive given that the state has grown enrollment by 7 percent during the last five years alone, and has overcome annual decreases in funding to do so. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $8,495. Conversations about how to further expand access to high-quality early learning programs have increased over time, taking center stage in recent political battles on the state and local levels.
- Impact on the gubernatorial race: In February 2014, Democratic candidate Wendy Davis called for expanded access to full-day pre-K, with a plan that proposed using existing resources and surplus budget to fund the effort. Her opponent, Republican candidate Greg Abbott, shared his proposal shortly thereafter, asking the state “to invest first in improving the quality of pre-kindergarten before opening the door for more students to attend full day classes.” After reviewing the plans, the Houston Chronicle praised the candidates for their “thoughtful – albeit different – proposals on early childhood education and … [their work to prompt] a statewide debate over how best to improve effective education programs for youngsters before they reach kindergarten age.”
- San Antonio as a model: Texas Public Radio reports that the first evaluation of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s Pre-K 4 SA initiative will be released in summer 2014. The report will include data and analysis that help people “get an idea exactly how the program performed in its first year to see what worked well and what needs improving.” The program was launched in 2011 to provide 21,000 4-year-olds high-quality pre-K by June 2021.