Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 4, the signature legislation of his emergency early childhood education initiative. The bill establishes a grant program that sets aside $130 million over two years for public school districts to improve the quality and accountability of the state’s pre-Kindergarten or “pre-K” programs. Abbott declared early education issues to be an emergency item during his State of the State Address in February.
On May 28, the Governor held a signing ceremony at the Anita Uphaus Early Childhood Center in Austin for HB 4 and three other early childhood education bills. He was joined by students, teachers and several members of the Legislature, including the bill’s authors and sponsors.
“Our journey begins with striving to create the best education system in America,” said Governor Abbott in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas . “We cannot wait until tomorrow, we must start today. I am proud to sign into law HB 4, to ensure children get off to the best start for early education.”
“The state of Texas proudly ranks No. 1 in the nation for so many different things,” the Governor said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“The time has come for the State of Texas to become No. 1 in the nation for education,” Abbott emphasized at the event. “By signing these bills, we are providing our education system with the tools and resources necessary to build the strongest possible foundation for our early education programs and subsequently, Texas’ future.”
According to a press release issued by the Governor’s office, HB 4 intends to “implement high-quality education standards for Texas Pre-K students.” Its primary author was Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and it mostly mirrored Abbott’s pre-K vision. Early childhood education topped Abbott’s five legislative emergency items.
Breitbart Texas reported that Abbott ran for the governorship on a platform of sensible early education, a manageable “gold standard” that would bump up pre-K programs by building upon what already works statewide. HB 4 is not an expansion of pre-K, according to Abbott and the lawmakers who either sponsored or carried the bill.
Currently, Texas taxpayers fund half-day pre-K for four-year-olds from low-income, English Language Learner (ELL), military, foster and homeless families. HB 4 will allocate up to $1,500 per child to eligible public school districts that agree to beef up their early education programs for these qualifying students, as Breitbart Texas has reported.
Districts must also implement specific teacher training, meet new curriculum requirements, and increase parental involvement before they can receive any grant money. Participating schools will have to report certain data about their pre-K programs to the state.
Breitbart Texas previously reported that HB 4 received mixed reactions. Citizen advocates, including the Grassroots Advisory Board to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, expressed strong concerns that HB 4 would open the door to state-mandated, taxpayer-funded full-day pre-K. They also disputed the lasting benefits of pre-K programs.
Conversely, “Big Pre-K” non-profits such as Raise Your Hand Texas pushed a pricier vision of full-day early education. Breitbart Texas reported that CEO David Anthony called the Governor’s approach “not enough.”
According to the Statesman, Abbott used ten different pens to sign the ten letters of his name onto the bill.
“It was nice to see on the final vote on HB 4 nothing but green lights,” Abbott said, noting it was “a tribute to the House leadership and the Senate leadership.”
Asked Thursday if he envisions expanding the program if it proves a success, Abbott described it as a “starting point.”
He added, “We need to find out information about what works for these kids.”
The Governor signed three other bills as part of his emergency early education initiative: Senate Bill 934, training academies for grade K-3 math teachers; Senate Bill 935, a pilot program for a reading excellence team; and Senate Bill 972, training academies for grades 4-5 reading teachers.
On May 21, Abbott signed Senate Bill 925, K-3 teacher professional development provided by literacy achievement academies, also part of his early education initiative.
HB 4 and SB 925 became effective upon the Governor’s signature.
This article has been updated.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.