Leander ISD pre-K expansion plans call for 40 new classrooms, doubling program capacity

Education

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — A plan to expand Leander ISD’s pre-K program to a full-day offering would double the district’s expected enrollment and add around 40 new pre-K classrooms this fall.

The board of trustees will consider and possibly vote on the plan at their meeting Thursday. It calls for growing the number of elementary schools offering pre-K classes to 11, up from six currently.

Explore the schools that will get pre-K centers in the map below. The red markers are current pre-k communities, and the blue markers represent campuses that would host the classes under the proposed plan.

The current half-day program serves about 400 students now, “which is really only about 47% of eligible students,” said Jennifer Freeman, Leander ISD’s director of intervention services. “We think that we could probably capture closer to about 90% of our eligible population” with a full-day program, bringing enrollment to 750-800 students.

Classroom changes

The increase will mean dozens of new classrooms and teachers, because they won’t be able to teach two classes per day like they can under the current half-day system.

“I’ve never taught a full-day 4-year-old program, so this is going to be a learning curve for me as well,” said Jenny Cole, a pre-K teacher at Bagdad Elementary School.

Cole started out teaching kindergarten, but has taken to pre-K as a way to focus more on play-based learning. “I feel like I get to teach the way that feels the most natural.”

Her daughter went through a full-day program, so she knows a bit of what to expect — two meals instead of one, regular naps — and she’s excited to see what the expansion brings.

“It should be really interesting to start off the day with all of my students,” Cole said. “I do enjoy that morning time and that greeting.”

House Bill 3 impact

The expansion is part of pre-K changes mandated by House Bill 3, passed by the Texas legislature in 2019.

Among a raft of education changes, HB3 requires districts that offer pre-K to eligible 4-year-old students to ensure it’s a full-day program.

“This is something that we’ve really wanted as a district for a while,” Freeman said.

The state will fund some of the expansion in Leander ISD, but the district will spend millions each year to offer the program.

Freeman estimated the cost in the 2020-21 school year to be $6.7 million, with a recurring cost of about $4.2 million each year after, largely due to the increase in salaries and benefits for additional teachers.

The district applied for a waiver from the Texas Education Agency this year to put off the expansion until the fall of 2020 due to the necessity to build out more resources for students.

Eventually, the district might expand the program further, Freeman said, to include a tuition-based option.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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