In the 2017 Texas legislative session, the Senate passed Bill No. 1882. Few people know of the bill, but one small school in Galveston is very happy that it exists. This October will be the beginning of the third year of Moody Early Childhood Center, a year-round school that caters to Galveston children, ages 6 weeks to 3 years old.
It began as a private nonprofit, partnering with the local school district, staffed by qualified early childhood educators, and governed by a board of volunteer directors. It was funded primarily by the Moody Foundation and other donors, both large and small. In July, it became the first in-district charter school for that age group anywhere — and it has House Bill No. 1882 to thank. It’s a model for early childhood education that deserves a close and expansive look.
The center serves students that are reflective of the socio-economic demographics of the Galveston school district in which more than 70 percent of students qualify for the federal free/reduced lunch program. It offers its families a range of enrichment and support services including parenting skills, medical, mental health and dental services, nutrition education, financial education and family advancement assistance.
Why focus on this age group? The answer is simple and scientific. A child’s brain is 85 percent formed by the age of 3 years. If those brains receive positive stimulus, enrichment and caring, they develop into productive adults. But if they are in a toxic stressful environment, it will derail a healthy development, reducing the ability to learn.
By age 3, a disadvantaged child will hear 30 million words less than their more affluent peers. Current research shows children who start kindergarten behind, too often stay behind, and over 85 percent are still behind in fourth-grade. Moody Early Childhood Center is trying to even that playing field.
Early childcare is very expensive, but can make up for those early costs by what it eventually provides to our society. It can lead to higher educational attainment and subsequent economic success in adulthood. The government may benefit from higher tax revenues and reduced outlays for social welfare programs and the criminal justice system.
As a result of improved economic outcomes, participants themselves benefit from higher lifetime incomes, and other members of society gain from reduced levels of delinquency and crime.
State Sens. Jose Menendez and Paul Bettencourt authored 1882. It is a positive beginning by those forward-thinking legislators, and we thank them for their thoughtful and compelling achievement. But we need to do more.
In this coming legislative session, Texas should further commit to early childhood education by fully funding pre-K3 and pre-K4 programs for a full day instead of a half day. By the time those children reach third grade you should see a vast improvement in overall scores. Texas can be in the top 25 percent of the nation, not in the last.