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Amid the pandemic, Pre-K enrollment has fallen off a cliff and the impact of that can be far reaching

HOUSTON – Pre-K education is a critical part of a child’s development. It’s not a required part of a child’s educational years, but it prepares them for kindergarten, gives them a greater chance of graduating high school and sets them up for a good job with good pay.

“It’s like anything in life. If you want to get into something, get into it at an early age,” said Ricky Collins, whose son just graduated Pre-K.

“There are critical social, emotional, and cognitive skills that they’re developing in Pre-K,” said Ellie Johnson with Good Reason Houston. “Pre-K lays the foundation.”

Enrollment in free-fall

But Pre-K enrollment is dropping drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Houston Independent School District, it’s down 20% compared to last year’s enrollment numbers.

Channel 2 Investigates found it’s not just HISD. Enrollment numbers have fallen off a cliff across the region. Spring ISD is down 44%. Alvin ISD is down 18%. Texas City hasn’t even been able to start enrollment yet. Pre-K is taking a back seat to COVID-19.

“It has a very significant impact on preparing students for school so if a lot of them are not going to Pre-K, that is a huge concern,” said Ruth Lopez Turley of the Kinder Institute. “These are families that are struggling the most due to this pandemic due to job loss, wage loss.”

To put it plainly, it’s hard to plan the future when you’re having problems in the present.

Reversing the trend

But, it’s far from a hopeless situation. Ellie Johnson believes it starts with reaching out to those vulnerable neighborhoods.

“We’re working with a network of community partners to distribute information directly to families,” she said. The campaign includes radio, digital and social media advertising.

“We are investing in two-week-long campaigns to ensure that families have the information and tools they need to enroll,” Johnson said.

The Houston Public Library is also doing its part to urge parents to register kids for Pre-K.

“One of the things we are doing today is we have flyers that we are stuffing with Pre-K enrollment to get the message out there,” said the library’s Mary Wagoner.

For Ricky Collins, it’s a no-brainer.

“Don’t let your kids miss out on an opportunity to learn at the age at their at,” he said.

School districts give special preference to families facing certain challenges, but it’s not too late to register your kids for Pre-K.

To find a program near you, click here.