TEA Announces 578 School Districts to Receive HB 4 Pre-k Grants

July 5, 2016
CONTACT: Peter Clark, 512-417-9262

Announcement Shows High Demand for New Pre-k Quality Funds, But Awarding Grants of Only $734 Per Student Poses Potential Challenge for Districts

AUSTIN – Today the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that 578 independent school districts and charter districts educating the vast majority of Texas student will receive grants for the 2016-2017 school year under the state’s new high-quality pre-k grant program, demonstrating great interest across the state in early childhood education. Twenty-eight districts that applied for the funds were either denied the grants by TEA or ultimately chose not to participate in the grant program. The Legislature and Governor Greg Abbott established the grant program in 2015 through House Bill 4. The list of grant recipients released by TEA today is available here.

 "Education leaders know that investing in high-quality pre-k is one of the most effective ways to improve student achievement, so it’s not surprising to see so many school districts apply,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, a multi-issue children’s policy organization. "School districts know their job gets a lot easier, and kids achieve more, when more children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.”

The high level of demand for the program, coupled with the Legislature’s $118 million appropriation for the 2016-2017 school year, resulted in TEA awarding relatively small grants to districts to improve pre-k quality. School districts will receive two tranches of funding for a total of $734 per pre-k student, less than half of the $1,500 per student originally envisioned in HB 4. The state’s school finance system also provides districts with approximately $3,600 per pre-k student to pay for a half-day program.

"It will be a challenge for school districts to turn these relatively small grants into sustained improvements in program quality and student performance,” said Ms. Rubin. "These pre-k grants are a good step but state leaders will have to continue the $118 million per school year investment and support other community pre-k improvement efforts to see real returns for kids.”

The grants are intended to improve the effectiveness of pre-k programs. Ample research demonstrates that pre-k can yield a significant return on investment and help students make significant academic strides, but only if the program is high-quality. Texas pre-k currently meets only two of ten quality benchmarks according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. For example, there is no statewide limit on pre-k class sizes or student-teacher ratios, although HB 4 directs the pre-k grant recipients to attempt to provide a teacher or aide for every 11 pre-k students.

A total of 4,343,597 students are enrolled in ISDs that applied for the grants, comprising 86 percent of the state’s five million students in traditional school districts. Nine of the state’s 10 largest school districts will receive HB 4 grant funding: Houston, Dallas, Cypress-Fairbanks, Northside, Austin, Fort Worth, Fort Bend, North East, and Katy ISD. Aldine ISD is the one district among the state’s ten largest districts that will not receive HB 4 grant funding. Amarillo ISD was the largest district that did not apply.

Texans Care for Children, in partnership with the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC), will closely monitor, analyze, and report on HB 4 grants over the course of 2016.

HB 4 does not change eligibility requirements for pre-k. Under existing state law, school districts must provide at least a half day of voluntary pre-k for four-year-olds if they are low-income, learning English, have ever been in the foster care system, or have a parent who is on active duty with the U.S. military or was injured or killed on active duty.

HB 4 is not designed to help more districts expand pre-k from half-day to full day. Until 2011, the state provided approximately $208 million per biennium in pre-k grants to allow districts to extend pre-k to full day. The Texas Association of Business recently announced its support for state funding for full day pre-k.