By: Alan Cohen, Executive Director of Early Childhood and Community Partnerships at Dallas ISD
As a community, we must focus on our earliest learners. Research shows us that 85 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the child reaches 5 years old. This provides us a critical window in an early learner’s life to set the foundation for long-term future success.
However, in Dallas ISD, we have too many students beginning kindergarten already behind. The longer we wait to provide necessary interventions to these at-risk students, the more difficult, more costly, and less effective those interventions will become. As a District, we are working hard on a comprehensive early childhood plan to reach more children with a quality Pre-K education. But we have our work cut out for us.
Research shows us that children who receive a quality Pre-K education and start kindergarten developmentally on track will be more successful throughout their academic career, and therefore, more successful throughout their lives. Yet currently, Dallas ISD estimates more than 17,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-old children are not accessing our Pre-K classrooms – representing a missed opportunity of more than $60 million each year to support our early learners.
While our first priority is the educational and social development of our kids, the benefit to the community at-large should also not be forgotten. The Institute for a Competitive Workforce issued a report in 2010 titled, “Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education.” The report states that “for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17.50 in the years ahead.” These returns are based on long-term educational, social and economic benefits, including increased earnings and tax revenues and decreased use of welfare and other social services, resulting in lower expenses for states and communities.
The need for drastically improved access to quality early childhood education in Dallas was created over many decades and will not be solved overnight. But our sense of urgency is high, and there are steps we can take right now to support more kids. For the first time in Dallas ISD history, the District is hosting a Prekindergarten Round-Up Week, a new annual event encouraging eligible families to take advantage of free Pre-K. From April 7-11, parents may register their children at any Dallas ISD elementary school.
Children who live in Dallas ISD who will be 4-years old by September may be eligible based on any of the following criteria: unable to speak and understand English; educationally disadvantaged (eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program); homeless; child of a member of the U.S. armed forces; or has been in state foster care.
We urge the business community to keep the issue of early childhood education top of mind as we work together to build a better future for our kids and our city. Thank you for your ongoing support and please help Dallas ISD spread the word about Pre-K Round-Up Week April 7-11.