In the midst of holiday celebrations and the lead up to the 86th Legislative Session, the Texas School Finance Commission released their much-anticipated recommendations to overhaul our school funding system. Since then, we’ve heard the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and new Speaker of the House come together to call for significant reform and new investments this session.
One of the major pillars of the Commission’s report was a renewed call for early childhood education funding, including for high-quality, full-day pre-k. Their report demonstrates that Texas pre-k works, but needs a much greater investment to unlock its full potential.
Here are some key early childhood excerpts from the Commission's report:
“Research shows that children who attend high-quality pre-k programs are more likely to be kindergarten ready, to earn higher scores on third-grade reading and mathematics assessment tests, and ultimately, to graduate from high school on time and enroll in college."
"Jacquie Porter of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) testified that preK programs meaningfully increase kindergarten readiness, particularly among eligible children. Among eligible children who attend public preK programs, 58 percent are kindergarten ready, while only 42 percent of eligible children who do not attend preK are kindergarten ready."
"Attending a high-quality preK program also benefits students in the much longer term. Research from TEA shows that the effects of high-quality preK programs continue to benefit students as they get older, reducing their likelihood of dropping out of school by two percent, and increasing their likelihood of graduating from high school on time (by six percent), enrolling in college (by seven percent), and attending a second year of college (by six percent)."
Here's a summary of their recommendations regarding pre-k:
Additional funding for English language learners and low-income students in early grades, contingent on the districts offering full-day, high-quality pre-k. An additional 0.1 weight in the school finance formula for every student in kindergarten through third grade who is low income or an English language learner (a student who is both would receive a 0.2 weight), producing total available estimated funding of $780 million annually starting in 2019–2020. In return for this funding, all districts offering pre-k will be required to offer full-day programs with higher quality standards, including improved student-teacher ratios.
Third-grade reading outcomes funding. These funds would be spent in pre-k through third grade on strategies that improve third grade literacy, including expanding full-day pre-k programs, increased dual language strategies, and hiring instructional specialists, among others. Estimated cost of $400 million.
Consider full-day pre-k funding within the Foundation School Program. Currently, the Legislature only funds half-day pre-k. If districts choose to operate full-day programs, they must supplement resources from other areas, including funding for other grades.
Consider allowing three- and four-year old children of Texas public school educators to be eligible for free public pre-k. This change would help attract and retain more quality pre-k teachers while increasing the diversity of pre-k classrooms, which today are mostly limited to low-income and English language learner students.
We urge lawmakers to follow the Commission's lead by ensuring that full-day, high-quality pre-k is one of the centerpieces of the school finance plan they develop this session. Following on the SBOE's call for full-day pre-k funding, the Commission's report is just another example of the rapidly building momentum for boosting pre-k funding this session. A new poll released by Raise Your Hand Texas shows that the vast majority of Texans recognize the importance of pre-k and believe the state should provide funding for full-day programs. As we demonstrated with a report released last month, districts are eager to provide high-quality, full-day pre-k to Texas kids — they just need the funding and support from lawmakers to do it.