Austin American-Statesman - December 2, 2015
by Julie Chang
As the state prepares to dole out $130 million to beef up public prekindergarten, education advocates are calling for the money to go toward small class sizes, teacher training and full-day schooling.
About a dozen public school officials and experts testified Tuesday during a statewide hearing the Texas Education Agency had on House Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top legislative priorities from this past session.
The law creates a $130-million grant program — on top of about $800 million a year in existing funding — for school districts to improve public prekindergarten.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Texas does better than most states in providing prekindergarten education to students — about half of the state’s 4-year-olds are in such programs. But Texas loses ground in the quality of the education, in part because the state doesn’t limit class sizes or require teachers to be trained in prekindergarten education.
Texas has about 220,000 prekindergarten students, with school districts receiving on average about $3,600 per-student in state funding. The state pays for half-day programs for students from low-income and military families. Nearly half of the state’s school districts currently dip into their local funds to offer full-day programs, according to a 2014 survey from the education research and advocacy group Children at Risk.
Many of those who spoke on Monday said that to qualify for up to $1,500 extra in per-student funding from the grant program, school districts should require teachers to have proper early education experience or training and school districts should maintain a student-teacher ratio of about 11-to-1. Currently, the state has no class-size requirement for prekindergarten, although there is a cap for kindergarten through fourth-grade classes.
"The research is clear that large pre-K classes are not high quality. We’re setting up even the best trained teachers for failure if we put them alone in a classroom with 20, or 25, or even 30 4-year-olds,”said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of the advocacy group Texans Care for Children.