State implements new pre-K grant program

State implements new pre-K grant programOn May 28, Gov. Greg Abbott signed priority legislation House Bill 4—a $130 million high-quality half-day pre-K improvement grant program—into law for the 2015-17 biennium.

The legislation accounts for raised credentials for pre-K teachers, approved curriculum aligned with early teaching standards, progress monitoring during the year and collection and reporting of key classroom data to the Legislature and public. However, HB 4 does not offer formula-generated funding for a full day of high-quality pre-K for all eligible students.

“With Texas having more than 60 percent of our kids classified as economically disadvantaged, we felt like a full day of high-quality pre-K would be the best investment our state could make for all kids,” said David Anthony, CEO of nonprofit advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas.

To fund a full day of pre-K statewide, legislators would have had to allocate an additional $1.5 billion for the 2015-17 biennium, Anthony said.

A handful of large urban districts in Texas are able to offer full-day pre-K programs through local funds, he said. However, Tomball and Magnolia ISDs only have enough funding to support half-day pre-K.

Under HB 4, qualifying districts could see an increase of up to $1,500 per eligible student to enhance their pre-K programs, though MISD has not been notified of an exact amount for its programs, said Elizabeth Torres, MISD bilingual, English as a Second Language and pre-K director. MISD ramped up pre-K teacher training this summer with further enhancements expected this year, she said.

“The district is experiencing an increase of English language learners in pre-K,” Torres said. “The additional funding will be used for training pre-K teachers on teaching diverse learners. The goal of Magnolia ISD is to provide pre-K services to all eligible students.”

Although MISD is expected to benefit from HB 4, TISD will not qualify for the grant program due to its high bracket of wealth per pupil, TISD Communications Director Staci Stanfield said.

However, the district has seen steady pre-K enrollment numbers each year, Stanfield said.