In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott created a pre-K grant program, increasing support to 573 school districts and to charter schools across Texas. These grants were intended to address the student-teacher ratio, improve curricula, and advance standards to achieve a high-quality education. In 2017, Texas Legislature cut funding for this grant program. Districts hoping to continue offering pre-K have struggled to make up the difference, and parents have been left in the lurch to make alternative arrangements for their chilrend.
Districts have had to cut staff and professional development training. Unfortunately, some districts relied on these grant funds on the expectation they would continue, and have since been unable to make the necessary adjustments to keep their programs afloat. Other districts have utilized alternative resources such as accessing other grants that are funded by local taxpayers. However, even these districts will feel the pinch soon if additional funding is not allocated towards their pre-K programs.
Further, parents who once had children enrolled in full-day pre-K programs are now tasked with making alternative arrangements, which can cost them money for childcare, or missing the opportunity to work if they have to care for their children themselves. Not only are parents strained financially, but they also risk compromising the quality of education their children could receive.
In the current legislative session, the Texas State House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate have agreed full-day pre-K is important for educational advancement in Texas, but they have not yet agreed on how to fund it, or at what level.
There is no question that there are huge benefits to pre-K programs. The Current State of Scientific Knowledge suggests that pre-K promotes both school readiness and longer-term educational success. Children who attended pre-K programs have a higher rate of graduating from high school, thereby accessing higher skilled and higher paying jobs.
School districts and parents of at-risk kids are hoping the legislature will appropriate sufficient funding. If Texas is serious about education reform and investing in our future, the legislature needs to increase investments in pre-K programs to improve educational quality for our next generation of thinkers, workers, and leaders.
On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Texas House of Representatives will vote on a school finance bill, HB 3. The companion bill, SB 4 is not identical to the House bill, and one or both bills will require amendment to properly finance full-day pre-K. Now is the time for Texans to make their voices heard in Austin, by contacting their Representatives and Senators, and urging them to properly and permanently fund full-day pre-K.
State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, speaks at a Texans for Vaccine Choice event at the state Capitol in Austin on May 3, 2019. Miguel Gutierrez