Texas Bills Push Funding, Support for Pre-Kindergarten

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Six bills will be discussed by the Texas House this week, including one that would offer additional funding for school districts who comply with particular pre-kindergarten curriculum and teacher quality standards.

In addition, the House Public Education Committee hearing will also consider incentives for districts to implement full-day Kindergarten in the state, collect data concerning pre-kindergarten class size and ratios, and start a temporary committee which would work to place all early childhood policies under one office.

Early education had been named one of the five emergency items that legislature needed to discuss right away by Governor Greg Abbott in his State of the State Address last month, writes Ryan McCrimmon for The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

House Bill 4 holds the most momentum, pushing for extra funding in order to increase pre-kindergarten standards.  Author and state representative Dan Huberty said he expects $100 million to be offered to the program by House budget writers.  That amount would give districts an average of $1,500 per student.

Currently the state operates half-day pre-kindergarten programs for low-income, English-language learning, military and foster children.  The new bill would only apply to those children, who total around 225,000.

Critics of the bill argue that the bill needs to do more in terms of funding in order to allow districts to provide full-day programs.

“It’s crucial to try to get to full-day [pre-K] as soon as possible,” said Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Dallas) as he laid out House Bill 1100.

The Legislature had cut $300 million of early education funding in the state in 2011.  According to Huberty, HB 4 would only gain back about one-third of that amount, writes John Savage for The Texas Observer.

House Bill 1100 is the other major early childhood education bill currently being considered.  The bill, written by Democrat Eric Johnson and Republican Marsha Farney, would offer incentives for those school districts who choose to offer full-day pre-kindergarten programs, in addition to implementing teacher training and new curriculum standards. It also places limits on class size.

Studies have shown that students who participate in a quality full-day pre-kindergarten program go on to perform at a higher level than those children who were in half-day programs in the areas of social-emotional skills, math and language.

While there are some similarities involved in the two bills, Johnson said that HB 4, “doesn’t go nearly as far as we do in requiring some of the best practices that we’ve found actually move the needle on student performance.”

The Obama administration considers the creation of a full-day pre-kindergarten program for low-income children a top education priority for the nation.  So far, dozens of states have increased their funding for early childhood programs.