Updated May 6: The Texas Senate approved House Bill 3 which will fund full-day pre-K for low-income students. The bill will now go in front of Gov. Greg Abbott for possible passage.
More 4-year-old students within Fort Bend ISD could get their own full-day prekindergarten class if the 86th Texas Legislature passes House Bill 3.
FBISD has 18 elementary campuses offering morning or afternoon half-day prekindergarten sessions to students who meet certain eligibility requirements, such as being enrolled in free or reduced lunch.
It also offers two full-day programs at Ridgemont and Hunters Glen elementary schools through a collaboration with charter school BakerRipley Head Start, according to the district.
FBISD Chief Financial Officer Steven Bassett shared how the bill, which makes $9 billion in school finance policy changes, would affect the district at a Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce event March 8.
“This is a game-changer,” Bassett said.
School finance reform was declared an “emergency item” by Gov. Greg Abbott for this legislative session. The Texas House of Representatives passed HB 3 on April 4, and it will now make its way through the same process in the Senate.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, who co-authored HB 3 and has been advocating for full-day pre-K since being elected to the House in 2011, said this legislation is a step in the right direction.
“They will have greater skills and be more prepared for kindergarten,” Reynolds said. “It will also benefit children who can’t participate in a half-day program because their parents aren’t able to pick them up.”
Though the bill’s future is still developing, Bassett discussed several unknowns associated with accommodating more students in pre-K.
Bassett said 40% of pre-K classes in the district are half day. However, there are not enough classrooms in those 20 schools to offer more than one class at a time, he said.
“We have plenty of classrooms, but they are not all in one place, so some work needs to be done,” Bassett said.
That means while classes would be offered at a child’s zoned school, they may be taken to another school where there are classrooms, he said.
In addition, if all classes were full day, Bassett said the district would need to hire between 50 and 200 teachers and aides to meet the demand. He said if the bill is passed, the district would likely be able to fill those jobs in time for the 2019-20 school year to begin.
Another unknown is the cost. A solution designates a portion of HB 3 to help provide funding for the other half of the day by establishing an early reading program that will fund full-day, high-quality prekindergarten for low-income students, according to the bill.
However, the district expects the cost of full-day pre-K to exceed the amount of new revenue, Bassett said. If HB 3 passes as drafted, FBISD would gain $5.3 million in new funding for early childhood literacy, but the overall additional cost would depend on enrollment, Bassett said.
Despite the unknowns, state and district education data shows attendance in pre-K is likely to provide positive outcomes for students.
A 2017 Texas Education Agency study that followed prekindergarten students over a 15-year period found that children who attended prekindergarten classes were 16% more likely to demonstrate skills showing kindergarten readiness.
In FBISD, of the 1,212 kindergartners enrolled in 2017-18 who attended a public pre-K program, 22.1% were assessed as kindergarten ready, according to TEA data.
In addition, 86% of pre-K students enrolled at a FBISD school in 2017-18 showed emergent literacy reading skills at the end of the year compared with 46% at the beginning, according to TEA data. Meanwhile, 43% of students were proficient in language and communication skills, and mathematics proficiency grew two percentage points to 86%.
“Establishing this program will help students become more independent learners and enter kindergarten at grade level,” Reynolds said. “It will be setting the right foundation.”