This afternoon, we unveiled a landmark document that has been years in the making: the School Readiness Action Plan for Austin/ Travis County, an ambitious three-year plan to increase the percent of children who enter kindergarten school ready to 70 percent by 2015.
In Central Texas, only 50 percent of children are school ready, meaning only one in two students enter school developmentally ready to learn. The number of ready children drops to 13 percent in low-income communities, according to UWATX research released earlier this year.
“When children enter school behind, they tend to stay behind,” said Debbie Bresette, President, UWATX. “Children under 6 represent the future of our community- they’re one of our fastest growing populations- so changing these statistics means changing the future of Greater Austin.”
The Action Plan is informed by recent census data, which show one in three households in Travis County include children under 6 and nearly half of young children are low-income, which on average means a family of four living on less than $46,000 annually.
“We want to change these numbers so every child has the opportunity to be successful and Greater Austin can continue to thrive,” said Bresette.
To get here, UWATX led two years of collaborative efforts with the City of Austin, Travis County and a variety of local stakeholders, bringing together more than 200 entities. This true community effort was endorsed by Mayor Leffingwell, Judge Samuel Biscoe, Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Larry Gonzales. Long-time supporter Representative Mark Strama spoke at the unveiling about the importance of this plan for our community.
“Early childhood development should be a civic priority because it will drive the future of our community,” said Strama. “This Action Plan brings together all the stakeholders- nonprofits, individuals, business and government- to make these changes happen.”
The Action Plan includes strategies to leverage public funding, engage public officials and business leaders and more strategically target existing services. It also proposes increasing per capita spending on early childhood by 20 percent and targeting existing programs to focus on younger children.
“Research shows that when we provide services earlier, we make a bigger difference,” said Bresette. “Every dollar invested in early childhood saves us $4 to $9 later in decreased needs for remedial education, criminal justice and social services.”
To make a lasting impact, the Action Plan also includes strategies to improve the quality of existing early childcare and education, integrate services into necessary doctor appointments, educate parents and create a stronger overall support network for vulnerable children.
“Whether it’s integrating literacy programs into health screenings or offering parent education in neighborhood locations, we’re committed to making smart, strategic investments now that will bring results for years to come,” said Representative Larry Gonzales, who endorsed the Action Plan. “We need a well-educated, highly skilled workforce and early childhood education is critical to the success of our K-12 system.”
We were proud to see other community leaders committed to this issue join us today,
including Carmel Borders, Catherine Morse, Beth Tracey and David Sandal.
Most importantly, Carina Zuniga and her lovely daughter Elena came out to show their support. Parents like Carina were instrumental in shaping the Action Plan, which includes supporting parent education and training parent leaders to guide the community. Carina and Elena also participate in our Play To Learn program.
“We need more support for wonderful kids like Elena,” said Bresette. “School Readiness Action Plan exemplifies the best work we can do. When we are addressing the really big issues we face there is no one agency or entity that can solve them alone. We have to take on a really big challenge like early childhood development all working together- and that’s what we’ve done here.”