AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 50 business leaders sent a letter to the Texas legislature urging lawmakers to pump millions of dollars into education so districts can implement full-day Pre-Kindergarten programs across the state.
“There is a saying in business that “people are our greatest resource.” The same is true for Texas. For our State to meet its full potential, Texans must have access to the tools they need to succeed,“ the business coalition wrote.
The letter was signed by 56 businesses leaders from across the state, including representatives from BNSF Railway, HEB, Classic Jaguar, ABC Home and Commercial Services, PNC Bank and IBM.
During the 140-day legislative session that ends in May, several high profile proposals will face-off. House Bill 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, is an overarching education reform proposal that in parts pays for full-day Pre-K for low-income students. Currently, the state of Texas only pays for half-day Pre-K.
The Senate proposal, SB 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would give a $5,000 raise to all Texas teachers. The two proposals must be sorted out by the Memorial Day in order to become reality.
“Texas has a chance to ensure that every child is prepared for both school and life on the first day of kindergarten versus starting off behind their classmates and struggling to catch up,” said Amber Scanlan, a member of the advocacy group Texans Care for Children board of directors and the PNC representative on the business letter.
Lacy Waller did not send her two children to Pre-K because of the cost —her family’s income is above the limit for free half-day schooling, making juggling everyday life difficult.
“Oh definitely. Definitely. A lot of time I have to take my son with me to work,“ said Waller.
She says it’s the same for a lot of people in Hays County. The price and the half-day schedule make them avoid Pre-K.“The half-day really does limit the ability of people to attend cause you have to have someone to take those kids. There aren’t a lot of options.“
State Representative Erin Zwiener represents Hays and Blanco counties and is a new mother herself. She says while many districts want to offer it, only about half in her district can.
“The biggest challenge for district doing full day Pre-K is just the funding,“ said Rep. Zwiener.
As part of a large education overhaul, Zwiener says a house proposal would allow districts to offer full-day pre-K for all children. Those details still need to be worked out with the Senate — lawmakers there want to bump up all teacher and librarian pay. The challenge, Zwiener says, will be making the numbers work in the budget.
“This bill this year puts the funding for full-day Pre-K instead of just half day into the school funding formulas so that every district in the state should have the resources to do that,“ said Rep. Zwiener.