Chairman Buckley, Vice Chair Gervin-Hawkins, and Members of the Select Committee:
My name is Kim Kofron, Senior Director of Education. We are grateful to the Texas House of Representatives and Speaker Dade Phelan for the creation of this Select Committee and for your ongoing efforts to ensure all Texas children enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance or location. I am here today to continue conversations that began during the 2023 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature concerning enhanced support for cost-saving Pre-K partnerships between private child care providers and school districts, defining and reducing chronic absenteeism, expanding opportunities to support unemployed and under-employed youth and young adults, and utilizing the Sunset Commission to reduce disparities in educational outcomes for children across Texas.
Children at Risk greatly appreciates the support and commitment of the House to education, and we thank you for passing HB 185 that defined chronic absenteeism, HB 2302 that prioritized opportunity youth – defined as unemployed and under-employed youth and young adults aged 16 to 24, and HB 1614 that reduced administrative burdens for Pre-K partnerships during the 88th Regular Texas Legislative Session. These policies are crucial in ensuring that Texas students receive the support they need to overcome challenges and be successful in school. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to advance these bills after passage by the House.
Children at Risk provided supporting research and data, which includes data specific to your legislative district, to the Select Committee and these documents should be available to you in your folder.
Enhanced Partnerships between School Districts and Quality Private Child Care Providers
Research tells us just how important brain development is in a child’s first five years of life. We cannot make improvements to public education without addressing the needs of our youngest students in Pre-K. Texas has long prioritized partnerships between public schools and quality private child care programs participating in the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) child care program. These partnerships help expand Pre-K by utilizing private capacity, save school districts money, and reduce the need for future bonds for facilities, and help prevent the implosion of financially teetering child care centers. Unfortunately, bureaucratic, and administrative obstacles complicate the creation of these partnerships.
In order to simplify the enrollment process and expand the possibility for partnerships between school districts and child care programs, Texas needs to align eligibility so children receiving TWC child care subsidies also qualify for school district Pre-K when enrolled in a partnership classroom. This simple change will support not only school districts and child care providers but also working parents and the businesses who rely upon them.
Chronic absenteeism is an early warning sign that a student may need help. Chronic absenteeism among Texas students was a concern before the pandemic and is only becoming more of an issue for public education in Texas. In fact, Texas saw an increase of three percentage points from the 2020-2021 school year to 2021-2022 school year.
Texas needs better data about chronic absenteeism in public schools and public charter schools. With better data, we can address the causes of chronic absenteeism.
- Define chronic absenteeism in the Texas Education Code as a student who misses 10% or more of instructional time within an academic year for any reason.
- Add chronic absenteeism to the “at risk” category to better support students who are chronically absent and therefore at risk of dropping out.
- Require that TEA annually aggregate and report chronic absenteeism as well as truancy to increase transparency and better target student supports.
- Recognize the difference between truancy and chronic absenteeism.
Opportunity Youth are defined as youth and young adults aged 16-24 who are not engaged to school or work. These Texans make up 13.8%, or approximately half a million of those aged 16-24. The Texas Workforce Commission’s network of 28 Local Workforce Board receives millions of dollars annually to support these youth and young adults. However, only 20 of LWB’s even mention “opportunity youth” in their required strategic plans. Without a plan, there is little or no action.
- We need to require local workforce boards to distribute these plans to school districts in their service areas to include specific goals, metrics, and transparent reporting requirements for Opportunity Youth. This requirement will encourage LWBs to be more strategic, transparent, and increase collaboration among ISD’s and LWB’s, improve education and workforce outcomes, and maximize taxpayer dollars.
Sunset Commission and Educational Disparities
Texas public schools work hard to constantly improve student outcomes and meaningfully support school districts and teachers. However, disparities in opportunity and outcomes exist across Texas. For example, many rural communities lack the resources, course offerings, and student supports available in suburban and urban school districts. Texas must do a better job of identifying and eliminating these disparities and the negative impacts on outcomes and educational attainment that they cause.
- We need to include an evaluation of educational disparities in the Texas Sunset Commission’s decennial review of the Texas Education Agency. Prior to the start of the 2023 Texas Legislature, Children at Risk discussed this proposal with staff from the Sunset Commission and Sunset staff not reported that such a review could be conducted with current staff as a component of the regularly scheduled review of the Texas Education Agency.
Again, thank you for your time and consideration. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Kim Kofron M.Ed.
Senior Director of Education