State legislators know that high-quality pre-k works. They’ve seen the research showing that it helps improve school readiness, third grade achievement, and graduation rates and that it reduces costly spending on special education and grade retention.
Now they’re debating the best strategy for funding pre-k. We applaud them for engaging in that debate.
This session, we believe legislators should invest in the High Quality Pre-k Grant Program that launched in school districts in August 2016. To maintain the level of funding districts received this school year, lawmakers must appropriate $236 million to the program. (Beyond this session, legislators should move towards a more predictable funding system and establish stronger statewide standards for pre-k.)
Investing in pre-k through the grant program will be more effective than “supplemental” funding not tied to quality standards. Currently, districts participating in the pre-k grant program must meet quality standards that aren’t required for other districts. Those standards require increased teacher qualifications, a curriculum aligned to the Texas Pre-K Guidelines, a fully developed and implemented family engagement plan, and other critically important quality components. Grantees must also report data that is not required of other districts, including student progress monitoring results, kindergarten readiness data, teacher qualifications, and their parental engagement plan. This data will be valuable in helping districts and TEA identify program strengths and opportunities for continuous improvement, as well as target resources and provide technical assistance to boost student outcomes. (The Legislature could use the grant program to further improve pre-k quality by adding class size or student-teacher ratio limits to the requirements, as proposed in HB 188.)
But that only works if the grants are large enough to encourage districts to participate. If the Legislature provides $236 million for the 2018-19 biennium, and the same number of students are served, the program will continue to provide $734 per student, which is about half of the $1,500 originally envisioned for the program. If the Legislature provides less funding, it will cut short the investment that has been made and threaten to sabotage the program.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the grant funding supports quality pre-k for most of the students throughout the state. Our November 2016 report showed that 86 percent of the state’s pre-k students are served by the program. Those students are in rural, suburban, and urban districts. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently created the following helpful maps showing strong demand for the grants in legislative districts across Texas.
HB 4 High Quality Pre-K Grantees (House district Boundaries)
HB 4 estimated 2015-17 Funding by House District
HB 4 High Quality Pre-K Grantees (SEnate district Boundaries)
HB 4 estimated 2015-17 Funding by Senate District
We appreciate the many tough decisions legislators have to make as they fine-tune the 2018-2019 state budget. Families and community leaders are watching to see whether the Legislature at least maintains the state’s current levels of funding for quality pre-k or stalls progress through budget cuts and political disagreements. If we focus on what’s best for kids and taxpayers, the choice is clear: invest in high quality pre-k now and set our sights on the goal of ensuring all eligible students have access to quality pre-k in their communities.