Given the lifetime benefits enrolling a child in pre-K can have for their future, the Commit Partnership closely monitors pre-K enrollment in Dallas County while also partnering with school districts to help raise awareness and enroll as many children as possible.
Here are four takeaways from examining the latest Dallas County pre-K data:
- Students who attend pre-K in Dallas County outperform their peers
Ninety percent of a child’s brain forms before they enter kindergarten, so students who attend high-quality pre-K are more likely to academically succeed than their peers who do not attend pre-K. Over the past several years, Dallas County school districts – and many across the state – have made significant improvements in the quality of their pre-K programs, requiring additional training and resources for teachers and progress monitoring and defined guidelines for what students are expected to achieve. As a result, we’re not surprised that there are notable increases in kindergarten readiness.
2) COVID-19 caused notable enrollment declines
Many Dallas County students eligible for free pre-K are from demographics most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a likely cause for the enrollment drop. And since pre-K is not mandatory, many parents don’t know that they can enroll their child. However, kindergarten is also not mandatory, but 99 percent of Dallas County families enroll their child in the grade. Our collective goal is to build awareness, so families understand pre-K is equally important to kindergarten and enroll their children in pre-K at a similar rate to kindergarten.
3) There’s nearly 20,000 eligible, unenrolled 3- and 4-year-olds in Dallas County
We have seen an increase in 3-year-old pre-K enrollment in Dallas County, while 4-year-old pre-K enrollment remains flat. To reach these eligible students that should be enrolled in pre-K, we are embracing more neighborhood-based grassroots strategies to raise awareness and drive enrollment. We also believe that aligning outreach and recruitment/enrollment strategies across Dallas County school districts helps effectively reach more families than just school districts reaching out on their own. Before COVID, Dallas County pre-K enrollment grew by 15 percentage points compared to 5 percentage points for the state, showing that our enrollment strategies were working. In fact, before the pandemic, Dallas County had surpassed the state in pre-K enrollment by 3 percentage points. This shows that there are established pre-K recruitment and enrollment strategies available.
4) We need more pre-K seats to serve students
While a school district “must” find a pre-K seat for any family who enrolls an eligible 4-year-old, that seat can be anywhere within the district. Many families then end up declining that seat because the school they are assigned to is not in a convenient location. School districts should prioritize creating seats in areas where there are eligible students, not just where there’s already enrollment demand, and then work with the community to build awareness and support families with enrollment.
There are innovative solutions available to school districts to create seats. School districts can prioritize pre-K seats in bond elections, partner with childcare centers or government agencies, or find space within existing district buildings. For example, in Richardson ISD, sixth-grade is moving to junior high campuses to open additional pre-K space in elementary schools. Regardless of the strategy, the need is clear: we must collectively do everything we can to get as many children in as many pre-K seats as possible.