Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Tuesday that 578 of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts and open enrollment public charters will receive funds from $116 million earmarked for Governor Greg Abbott’s “high-quality” Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) grant program.
In 2015, Abbott declared early education among his emergency priority items. In response, the 84th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 4 (HB 4), the law that reflected Abbott’s vision to improve the state’s early education programs.
Said Morath: “Implementation of this important grant program, which remains a priority of Gov. Abbott, provides important educational support to our youngest Texans.” He continued: “By working to ensure and expand high quality prekindergarten programs across our state, we take an important step toward ensuring every child is prepared for the classroom from the very first day.”
Currently, Texas taxpayers fund half-day Pre-K for four-year-olds from low-income, English Language Learner (ELL), military, foster, and homeless families. The HB 4 grant program does not change eligibility requirements for Pre-K. It also maintains the existing half-day model. It adds a parent involvement component and a data reporting requirement for participating campuses that will begin in the 2016-2017 school year.
The qualifying 578 campuses included large and small school districts and charters. Texans Care for Children noted that 4,343,597 students, or 86 percent of the state’s five million-plus students, are enrolled in school districts that applied for the grants. Nine of the state’s 10 largest school districts will receive the monies. They are Houston, Dallas, Cypress-Fairbanks, Northside, Austin, Fort Worth, Fort Bend, North East, and Katy Independent School Districts. Aldine ISD is the one Top 10 largest school district not granted HB 4 funding, however. The largest, Houston ISD, received nearly $9.2 million. The smallest grant, $2,206, went to Devers ISD.
The grant payments account for two academic years, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, paid out in two installments. The first pays out immediately; the second follows fall 2016. HB 4-eligible schools can receive up to $1,500 per student for half-day Pre-K, although they received a more modest $734 per student, according to the Texas Tribune. The publication noted the final total funding amount was scaled down to $116 million from a revised $118 million. The original amount was $130 million. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) website stated per-student funding also depended on the number of eligible grant applicants.
The TEA indicated that, in accepting the grant monies, school districts and open enrollment charter schools agreed to implement high quality standards in their Pre-K classrooms to give enrolled children access to the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
Last year, HB 4 received mixed reactions. Big education proponents like Texans Care for Children angled for fully loaded, daylong early education programs that included social and emotional learning, increased funding for specialized early education teacher training, an assistant teacher, small class size ratios, and, even, the creation of an Office of Early Learning at the TEA, Breitbart Texas reported. David Anthony, CEO of non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas, complained Abbott’s approach was “not enough.”
Conversely, grassroots conservatives expressed concerns that HB 4 would morph eventually into exactly the kind of “Big Pre-K” that the state’s Big Education activists tried to push – state-mandated, taxpayer funded, full-day universal Pre-K-for-all programs like Head Start. Opponents questioned the overall validity and lasting effects of compulsory early education. Despite the experimentation with these programs, many studies continue to show little to no lasting benefits. Breitbart News reported Head Start findings as dismal.
However, in contrast to Big Pre-K, HB 4 plans to take a more modest approach to Pre-K through grade 3, improving existing programs and not just expanding them.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.