It was standing room only in a marathon meeting on the Texas House floor. Six proposed early childhood education bills were presented and debated before the House Committee on Public Education on Tuesday, March 10. The biggest issue of the day was half-day versus full-day of pre-Kindergarten (pre-K), although a frontrunner emerged in House Bill 4 (HB 4) authored by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston).
Last month, during his State of the State address, Governor Greg Abbott placed early education as his top emergency items for the 84th Legislature to undertake. Although the nationwide push from the Obama administration is towards full-day Head Start-based programs, Abbott ran on a platform of sensible early education, a manageable, approach that would bump up pre-K programs by building upon what already works statewide. Many felt Huberty’s proposed legislation was most in line with the Governor’s vision.
HB 4 would add $1,500 more per student for half day high quality pre-K. By some estimates this totaled $118 million, while others it totaled closer to $130 million, and would be applicable for public school districts that meet the standards set for enrollment, which also includes a parent involvement plan. HB 4 maintains the existing pre-K half-day model.
Huberty told a House committee that the state should focus on improving standards in the program and providing additional funds to accomplish the goal. “It’s my hope that additional funding will help every school district in the state provide a high-quality prekindergarten program,” Huberty said on Tuesday. “We want to make sure every kid in the state [in prekindergarten] gets more money,” the Dallas Morning News reported.
The Texas Senate side’s SB 801 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunsfels) and Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) is the companion bill to HB 4, according to the Texas Legislature. Other pre-K legislation on the House floor was HB 173 from Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), HB 296 from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), and HB 424 from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), the latter which would expand existing half to full-day programs.
Another competition piece of legislation, House Bill 1100, from Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown), would double the current amount per student, adding another $3,650 for full day pre-K, pumping $300 million tax dollars into pre-K, according to KXAN-TV.
The Dallas Morning News projected that figure at $412 million, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
Johnson spoke in defense of his HB 1100, saying that it would provide full-day funding for the classes would allow districts to lease space for the classes, set up portable classrooms or find other solutions to switch to a full-day program, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“It is crucial we try to get a full-day program as soon as possible,” Johnson added. He pushed studies that he claimed showed students in full-day programs perform the best later on.
“The political consensus and the research consensus are that high-quality prekindergarten is full-day prekindergarten,” he told the committee, insisting that students in those classes are better prepared for elementary school and less likely to drop out of school later on, research shows.
That may not be true when the early childhood education offered is Head Start, which is the backbone of the Obama administration’s universal early education program.
Breitbart Texas reported that Big Pre-K has proven a dismal failure, according to findings which underscored that even the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services found “that students who participate in the federal $8 billion Head Start program actually fare worse, in some ways, than students who do not. The study also found that positive effects of the program are not sustained into elementary school.
Hard core universal pre-K proponents like David Anthony, who heads up Raise Your Hand Texas, pushed for the Big Education program offerings. Anthony is the former superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD). He has called Abbott’s approach “not enough.”
Texans Care for Children griped during the committee’s Capitol hearings. They, too, were angling for fully loaded universal pre-K-for-all complete with social and emotional learning. This group benchmarks their ideas off of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), a Big Education think tank based at Rutgers University.
NIEER also leads the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEA) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes.
CEELO is part of the federal accountability machine. One of their partners is the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), who infamously is the co-copyright owner of the Common Core.
According to Texans Care, they wanted more funding for specialized early education teacher training, an assistant teacher, small class size ratios, and the creation of an Office of Early Learning at the Texas Education Agency (TEA), among other demands.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an affiliate of the nation’s second largest teacher’s union in the United States, came out in full force at the committee hearing on Tuesday as well. Union activists also tried to push full-day, fully funded universal pre-K.
The state, however, is not without a few Obama pre-K bucks. In December, $30 million of Head Start grant dollars was pumped into the state. Although Pre-K for SA, the legacy of former San Antonio (SA) mayor turned HUD Czar Julian Castro, is San Antonio city sales tax-funded, it is a Head Start-based program.
Even the Texas Education Agency (TEA) quoted a full-day pre-k program at costing $4.6 billion as well, “but it counts eligible 3- and 4-year-old’s, bringing the total number of students to 777,000,” KXAN-TV also reported.
Currently Texas taxpayers fund half-day pre-k for youngsters from eligible low-income, English Language Learning (ELL), military and foster families. According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, that amounts to $800 million for approximately 225,000 youngsters.
Despite the heavy lobbying earlier in the week, HB 4 had the initial bi-partisan backing. Also, House Speaker Joe Straus supported Huberty’s legislation, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
HB 4 would target children who are unable to speak English, on a free or reduced lunch schedule, homeless or the child of an active-duty military parent. According to Huberty, there are 250,000 children in Texas who meet these criteria, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Committee members did not vote on any of these bills during this week’s presentations.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.