Legislature grapples with expanding state pre-K program this session

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Legislature grapples with expanding state pre-K program this sessionAlthough half-day pre-K education in Texas began in the 1980s, if some state legislators who have filed bills on the issue have their way, full-day pre-K could become a possibility—a proposal that has support from Cy-Fair ISD officials.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest piece of education legislation that is discussed [this session], partially because people are waiting to see the outcome of the school finance court case,” said Robert Sanborn, executive director of Houston-based Children at Risk.

Students are eligible to attend pre-K in Texas districts if they qualify for free and reduced lunch; are special education students; are English-language learners; or are children of military families. However, at least six bills were filed this session to expand pre-K education to a full day.

“A lot of people think this is an issue for parents with young kids, but I think it’s an issue for all Texans,” Sanborn said. “Making sure kids can maximize their success by having high-quality pre-K is indeed a way of breaking the cycle of poverty.”

CFISD serves 3,320 students in half-day pre-K programs at 47 campuses and has two full-day pilot programs at Holbrook and Francone elementary schools, the latter of which began during the 2014–15 school year. If the district expanded to offer full-day pre-K education, CFISD could serve 6,123 eligible students.

Legislature grapples with expanding state pre-K program this session

“There is a lot of research that supports full-day pre-K, especially for economically disadvantaged students,” said Linda Macias, CFISD associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and accountability. “Overall, the research shows that children who attend full-day pre-K progress in literacy and math are more likely to graduate high school and attend college and are less likely to be incarcerated.”

Students who began with the Holbrook Elementary pilot program in 2009–10 are now in third grade, and district officials found there was a 10 percent increase in their State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness results compared with students who did half-day pre-K programs. Numbers for the pilot program at Francone Elementary, which started this school year, were positive as well.

“We only had mid-year assessment data, but you can see from that already that the [Francone] program is showing promising results, and we are very excited about that,” Macias said.

According to research completed in January by the district, it would cost about $34 million to implement full-day pre-K. However, it is unclear how the state would fund such a requirement for all districts, CFISD officials said.

“We’re hopeful the school finance lawsuit will provide a little more equitable funding for underfunded districts like Cy-Fair,” Superintendent Mark Henry said. “I’ve heard from [Gov. Greg Abbott] that pre-K should be a priority, and that’s a good step in the right direction. We’re going to get there—I just don’t know if it will take one legislative session or four.”

Henry added that he always dreamed of having a couple of early childhood centers on each side of the district.

“There are some issues you would have to work out, but I’ve seen that model work, and I think research and statistics show that a dollar spent on the front end saves money on the back end,” he said.

“Making sure kids can maximize their success by having high-quality pre-K is indeed a way of breaking the cycle of poverty.”

-Robert Sanborn, Children at Risk

Prior to the 82nd legislative session in 2011, the state offered several large grant opportunities for school districts that wanted to offer full-day pre-K. However, all grant funding for full-day pre-K education was dissolved when the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011. About 47 percent of districts in Texas still offer full-day pre-K, Sanborn said, most likely because they saw benefits from the program and wanted to retain it.

“The big question is why more districts aren’t engaging in this, and the discussion begins and ends with money,” CFISD trustee Kevin Hoffman said. “As a school board member, the discussion never ends. We will try and fight for these dollars that make a difference in children’s lives.”

Offering full-day pre-K education is also beneficial to working parents, Sanborn said, who often cannot leave work midday to pick up their children.

“It’s good for parents because when these kids are successful and graduate from high school and go on to college, they aren’t economic burdens to the state and become contributors to the overall economy,” he said.

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Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.
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