A fundamental issue limiting the ability of Texans to reach their full potential is lack of early education funding and focus. Government, nonprofit and community organizations are already funding several early childhood programs in the state, but more needs to be done to ensure high-quality, sustainable education for our youngest and most impressionable citizens.

During the 2019 session, the Texas Legislature advanced school finance reforms that would put more money into classrooms to accelerate student achievement and promote teacher quality, including full-day pre-K for eligible students and teacher salary increases. This is an important step in the right direction, but there’s still more we can do.

Texas lags behind much of the country in funding early education and ensuring higher quality teaching and programs. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s report, Texas ranks 35th for per-student spending and meets only four of 10 quality standards, falling short on issues such as student-teacher ratios and professional development opportunities for faculty. Texas needs to adopt these standards to help prepare children for school and careers and better equip our educators.

Charitable organizations and other philanthropies have a unique opportunity to fill the gaps in our educational system. We’re not as burdened by bureaucratic barriers and can seize the opportunity to effect change by funding aspirational programs that make a substantial impact.

One good example of this principle in action is through the educational system in Galveston, the Moody Foundation’s home. For years we’ve witnessed few coordinated programs on the island that offered opportunities for building students’ achievement. The trustees knew we had a responsibility to advance educational attainment in Galveston, leading to the public/private partnership with Moody Early Childhood Center and creation of the Generation Moody Education Initiative.

The center opened in 2016 and was the first program of its kind on Galveston Island, offering financially accessible, high-quality early childhood development to children ages 6 weeks to 3 years. Studies show low-income toddlers are six months behind in their language processing skills before they enter pre-K. The center’s goal is to help these children thrive by the time they reach kindergarten, developing various skills, including cognitive and communication, vocabulary, social and emotional skills.

The center has been lauded as a model for other low-income, early education programs and has been replicated across Texas.

Moody Foundation trustees also recognized the importance of a “cradle to career” educational focus. In early 2018, the foundation launched Generation Moody to create an educational attainment program that enriches the lives of Galveston-area students, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. This program guides every student from early childhood to adolescence to adulthood, ensuring their success.

Through the Generation Moody Education Initiative, the foundation has awarded more than $28 million to local educational organizations aimed at increasing student success in areas focused on literacy, science, technology and math. As an example, SMART Family Literacy hosts book drives and family engagement events and has donated over 40,000 children’s books to promote family reading.

As a Moody Foundation trustee, I’m humbled that we’re playing a role in early childhood education. We know there’s a larger movement across the state with organizations already implementing amazing programs to address this critical need, like the Texas Education Agency’s Early Childhood Education Division.

On a statewide level, we as citizens need to work together and support this movement to further early childhood education programs. Education is crucial to maintaining the vitality of any community. Bettering society starts with the improvement of our educational systems. It must be a top priority to give our youngest citizens a solid foundation to build on.

Ross Moody is one of three trustees of the Moody Foundation and chairman and CEO of National Western Life Group. His family and the Moody Foundation have been in Galveston for generations.

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(3) comments

Ma Gill

Numerous studies (including government studies) have shown that the advantages conferred by participation in a pre-K "Head Start" type program DISAPPEAR by 3rd (or even first!) grade. Government-funded pre-K is a proven waste of money.

Tony Brown

This column is absolutely correct. We are extremely fortunate to have the Moody Early Childhood Center, and the additional educational resources provided through the Generation Moody educational initiative. These are truly game-changers. While many of our children face challenges, these programs do much of the heavy lifting to ensure those challenges don't become barriers. Words simply can't express how thankful we are for the Moody Trustees and staff for their support and dedication to this effort.

Carlos Ponce

"children ages 6 weeks to 3 years" Will those children grow up with values different from their parents?

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