Previewing the House Hearing on Pre-K

Tuesday is pre-K day in the House Public Education Committee, with six pre-K bills scheduled for a hearing at 2:00 pm. The focus on pre-K reflects a bi-partisan, research-backed consensus that high-quality pre-K classes for four-year-olds ensure that more children start kindergarten ready to succeed instead of being behind on day one.

Here’s a look at what’s on the hearing agenda, with particular attention to the legislation backed by the Governor.

HB 4 by Representative Huberty and its identical companion, SB 801 by Senator Zaffirini, were recently filed based on the plan outlined by Governor Abbott. The bill would require the Education Commissioner to award increases in pre-K funding to districts that show that they have met certain quality benchmarks. Representative Huberty’s expectation is that the Legislature will provide $100 million for the program. The Legislature would have to double that amount to bring pre-K grant funding back to the 2011 level.

While the bill is a move in the right direction, this article notes that the legislation has received "lukewarm reviews” by advocates and others who believe it falls short of the Governor’s pledge to make significant progress on early education. Recent editorials by the Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman echo those views.

Our primary concern with HB 4/SB 801 is that the authors should use best practice indicators of quality. Our policy brief shows where the bill currently falls short of those best practices. The legislation doesn’t improve teacher quality standards or address student-teacher ratios and class sizes, for which there are currently no statewide pre-K limits. Research shows that taxpayers don’t get the full return on investment and students don’t get the support they need when a single teacher is assigned 25 or 30 four-year-olds.

We look forward to working with Representative Huberty, Senator Zaffirini and the rest of the Texas Legislature to strengthen HB 4 and SB 801 to ensure that high-quality pre-K is made available to all children attending the program.

The other high-profile bill on the hearing agenda is HB 1100, by Representative Johnson and Representative Farney. It would also provide increased funding to districts that meet quality standards, but it calls for more funding and more detailed quality standards, including class size limits and full-day pre-K.

Four other important pre-K bills are on the agenda, including HB 296, Rep. Wu’s bill to finally establish statewide limits on pre-K class sizes and student-teacher ratios.

Members of the committee include Representatives Aycock (Chair), Allen (Vice Chair), Bohac, Deshotel, Dutton, Farney, Gonzáles, Huberty, King, and VanDeaver.