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

The Dallas Morning News - - STATE - By JAMES BARRAGÁN Austin Bureau jbar­ra­gan@dal­las­ Twit­ter: @James_Bar­ra­gan

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.’ ”

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