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Coming soon to Del Valle: More money for dual-language pre-K

Friday, August 6, 2021 by Seth Smalley

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, commissioners voted to make a portion of American Rescue Plan Act funding available to increase access to dual-language and full-day pre-K in Del Valle in southeast Travis County. The request initially came from United Way Success by 6, a local nonprofit and active partner with county Health and Human Services.

The money – $750,000 over three years – is expected to serve just under 200 children per school year.

“The funding would be done in partnership with the city and the city has already committed to their half,” said Anna Lisa Conlin, a senior planner with HHS. Conlin highlighted the fact that Del Valle is currently considered a child care desert.

The city of Austin had conditionally committed $750,000 toward expanded pre-K services in Del Valle, if the county also participated.

County executive Sherri Fleming recommended commissioners approve the request and allocate the additional resources.

“You’ve heard both from staff and from the community that early childhood education is a critical tool that enhances the opportunity for success for young people in our community,” said Fleming.

“I’m prepared to support this today, in part because I called for this earlier in the summer,” Commissioner Ann Howard said. “It leverages the funding that other entities have to expand a needed service.”

Howard stipulated she was specifically supporting the allocation of additional ARPA funding for this cause, rather than the redirection of money previously allocated to HHS from ARPA.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion called for HHS additionally to address equity issues with ARPA money.

“I am usually wanting to support this type of project, so I plan to support this project. But I’ll also say that I trust HHS as it reaches out into the community and addresses the equity issues that I’ve put together. Education equity for the northeastern quadrant as well,” Travillion said. “We have children with a very important need and we need to address that need. But I also believe that we need to address that equitably across the board.”

There was some bureaucratic confusion when Jessica Rio from the Planning and Budget Office pointed out that previous direction from the county commissioners, from July 29, had called for a differing order of ARPA allocation priorities. Approving the item at this time, according to Rio, would fall outside of the previously agreed upon ARPA dissemination process.

“It’s mainly on process and not on substance,” Rio said. “We just want to be mindful any time that you make a decision outside of an established process.”

Upon hearing this, Travillion rescinded the motion he had just made to approve the ARPA allocation for expanded pre-K in Del Valle, out of respect for the process.

Eventually the motion unanimously passed, following the revelation that this particular portion of funding was, in fact, inadvertently not included in a prior bucket of ARPA allocation. It was important to commissioners to make the funds available for use before the start of the school year.

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