Free pre-K backed for kids of fallen first responders
Supporters call House Bill 357 a show of support for state’s public safety workers
AUSTIN — The Texas House on Thursday approved a bill that would allow the children of first responders who were killed or hurt while on duty to be eligible for free prekindergarten in public schools.
The five Dallas police officers killed during a downtown shooting last July had a total of 13 children. Two of those children would be eligible to receive free prekindergarten.
House Bill 357, by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would make the children of police officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders eligible for free prekindergarten. The bill passed the House on a 131-13 vote.
Mary Jalonick, president and CEO of the Dallas Foundation — which oversaw the millions of dollars in donations given to the officers’ families — said the bill was a strong show of support for them.
“It sends a message not only to the officers in Dallas, but officers and first responders across the state, that the community cares about them and their families and wants to give the children who have been through so much a really great start in life,” Jalonick said.
Huberty said the idea for the bill came before the Dallas shooting. A group of firefighters had asked that members of its profession be included with the families who are eligible for the program. Homeless children, kids who can’t speak or understand English, foster children and children of military members were already eligible.
Huberty said he hoped the bill would provide the families of first responders some relief in the event of a tragedy.
“My intent is that nobody ever has to use it,” he said. “But that’s unfortunately the situation where you have families who are impacted by this. If this tragedy ever does occur, we recognize as a state that that’s something we should provide.”
Frederick Frazier, a vice president for the Dallas Police Association, said the passage of the bill signals to families of first responders that their state lawmakers are thinking of them.
“It just lets them know that their husband or first responder’s death wasn’t for nothing,” Frazier said. “It’s just another way to give back, to just say, ‘We stand with you.’ ”