Tomball, Magnolia ISDs implement full-day pre-K

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Eligible 4-year-olds in Tomball ISD may soon be able to attend full-day prekindergarten as the district works to comply with a state law approved last June. Magnolia ISD began offering full-day pre-K at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, district officials said.

The passage of House Bill 3 mandated Texas school districts to offer full-day pre-K to eligible students if half-day programming was already in place, according to the Texas Education Agency. Districts with 15 or more eligible 4-year-olds must offer pre-K programming, according to the TEA.

“We had been watching the conversation in Texas for the past five years,” MISD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Anita Hebert said. “We were thrilled when it was passed.”

The full-day program is offered to students who meet certain requirements, such as being economically disadvantaged, Hebert said. All MISD elementary schools now offer the full-day program.

“We already had the space in our elementary schools to make [the change] possible,” Hebert said.

Meanwhile, TISD is poised to launch its first full-day programming at the district’s new Grand Oaks Elementary School, slated to open in August near Cypress-Rosehill Road and the Grand Parkway, Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said during a Feb. 10 board of trustees workshop meeting. Trustees approved applying for a three-year waiver Feb. 11, which would allow the district to phase in the full-day operation.

“We will continue to add full-day classrooms annually as required by House Bill 3,” said Allison Suarez, the director of communication and marketing for TISD, in an email. “We have an approved waiver through 2021-22 to work toward a districtwide full-day prekindergarten program.”

Implementing House Bill 3

Texas is the 13th state along with the District of Columbia to implement full-day pre-K, according to the Education Commission of the States. Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3—which poured $11.6 billion into the school finance system—into law June 11, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.

Bob Popinski, the director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas—an Austin-based education advocacy organization—said achieving full-day pre-K is a major component of the organization’s mission.

He said research by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance was presented to the Legislature in 2019, showing pre-K programs capitalize on brain development in young children, which can lead to greater academic achievement in later grades.

The commission’s report states by the age of 5, 90% of a child’s brain has already developed.

However, not every child is eligible for full-day pre-K. Qualifying students must be 4 years old by Sept. 1 in addition to either being unable to speak or comprehend English, being economically disadvantaged, homeless, being the child of an active-duty member of the armed forces who was injured or killed in service, or having been in foster care, according to the TEA.

TEA data from the 2018-19 school year shows MISD’s enrollment is 47.4% economically disadvantaged, which means a student is eligible to participate in the national free or reduced-price lunch program, and 14.7% of students are English language learners, meaning they are unable to speak or comprehend the English language. These numbers include all grade levels.

In TISD, 24.1% of students were economically disadvantaged in 2018-19 with 10% of students English language learners.

MISD had space at elementary campuses to implement full-day pre-K as fifth graders moved to new intermediate campuses in 2018, Director of Communications Denise Meyers said in an email.

However, TISD has not yet begun offering full-day pre-K. The district’s three-year waiver for full-day pre-K was received by the TEA on Feb. 26, TEA officials said. Waivers can be applied for up to three years with one renewal.

Salazar-Zamora said Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools Valerie Petrzelka and Chief Academic Officer Amy Schindewolf are heading a committee to determine the best timing to implement full-day programming districtwide, which could be sooner than three years.

“We do plan to in the following year [in August] at Grand Oaks Elementary School to have our first full-day [pre-K] there,” Salazar-Zamora said during the Feb. 10 workshop. “This is a requirement districtwide, and we won’t be going districtwide [yet].”

Funding pre-K

In addition to making space for students, the challenges facing districts asked to implement full-day pre-K include the program’s cost.

To switch to a full-day program, more teachers were needed at MISD, Meyers said. The total cost was approximately $1.5 million. As such, 13 teachers were hired for pre-K leading up to the 2019-20 school year with three more added during the fall, she said. The district also had to furnish the classrooms for pre-K students.

TISD anticipates adding two teaching positions and two paraprofessionals for pre-K at Grand Oaks Elementary in August, district officials said. According to district information, TISD has invested $1.16 million from HB 3 to launch full-day pre-K.

MISD Assistant Superintendent of Operations Erich Morris said in an email additional funding from HB 3 was crucial in making full-day pre-K a reality for MISD, but the funding is not straightforward.

“There’s no funding component of HB 3 which is specifically tied to the additional costs associated with full-day pre-K,” he said.

Morris said districts are funded for half-day attendance rather than full-day attendance as the bill requires. He said an early education allotment—part of HB 3—may be used to offset the cost of full-day pre-K, but there is no other funding available from the state for full-day pre-K.

TEA Press Assistant Melissa Holmes said in an email the early education allotment can be used to implement full-day pre-K with districts receiving funds for students in kindergarten through third grade who are economically disadvantaged or have limited English proficiency. Students who fall into both categories generate double the funds under the allotment.

Morris said MISD received about $1.5 million from the early education allotment.

As the state Legislature looks to resume in 2021, Popinski said he believes the early education allotment is secure for now but may not be safe from future state budget cuts.

“We hope the Legislature will come back and look at it in the future to help our districts,” he said.

Planning for an enrollment increase

With no law requiring students be enrolled in pre-K, it is hard for districts to predict if there will be an increase in pre-K enrollment, Hebert said. Under the state’s Education Code, parents are not legally required to enroll their children in pre-K like children ages 6-18 are required to be enrolled in grades K-12.

However, MISD has seen a rise in its pre-K enrollment since the 2015-16 school year, according to district data. For the 2019-20 school year, there were 376 students enrolled, up from 337 students in 2015-16.

Hebert said she believes there will be an increase in students once the program becomes more established.

“We do feel like we have not yet reached all the families that are aware that their students can come full-day,” she said.

“Teachers have been so excited, particularly lately, as we’ve watched the performance of the students,” she said. “They have seen an incredible amount of growth in the students in what they do in school, more so than what they were able to accomplish in a very hurried [half]-day program.”

TISD has also seen an increase in its pre-K program from 238 students in 2015-16 to 285 students in 2019-2020, according to TEA data.

Popinski said although full-day pre-K is currently limited to select students, Raise Your Hand Texas is pushing for an all-inclusive, full-day pre-K program without some of the eligibility requirements to attend.

“Our hope is to expand eligibility so that more kids will attend,” he said.

Anna Lotz contributed to this report.


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