AUSTIN (KXAN) – A plan to increase funding for Pre-Kindergarten programs in Texas is in jeopardy. Budget plans from the Texas Senate cut funds from a grant program backed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The House budget cuts all funding for those grants.
Gov. Abbott declared Pre-K funding an emergency in 2015, and pushed lawmakers to establish the grant program. It provides $118 million per year for school districts to provide what the Governor calls high-quality Pre-K. Programs that receive the grant money must meet state standards for curriculum and student-teacher ratios. Districts also have to report student progress to the Texas Education Agency.
Josh Hinkle, host of KXAN’s State of Texas political program, questioned Austin State Rep. Gina Hinojosa about the House cuts. “It seems like both the House and Senate budgets just don’t care about Pre-K this year. What’s going on?” Hinkle asked. “Well, I don’t think it’s true that we don’t care about Pre-K,” Hinojosa responded. She questioned whether the Governor’s plan for Pre-K is the best approach. Noel Candelaria, President of the Texas State Teachers Association echoed her concerns. “The challenges that we have with the Governor’s grant program is that you’re putting districts in a position and kids in a position where they’re now picking winners and losers based on who gets the grant and who doesn’t get the grant.”
“Certainly, we should have direct investment in Pre-K from the state,” Hinojosa said. “But absent that, we at least need to have better investment from the state into our schools so that we can use that money for Pre-K.” Rep. Hinojosa explained that House members are focused on increasing overall funding for schools. She said the House budget dedicates $1.5 billion more to public schools than the Senate’s plan. “There are many efforts statewide where constituents are reaching out to their senators and saying we expect investment in our public schools,” Hinojosa said.
On Thursday, educators and business leaders came to the Capitol to ask lawmakers to continue funding the Pre-K grant program. Right now, roughly 220,000 children participate in the program. Jud Scott, a retired Navy admiral joined supporters. He said improving education for young Texans is an investment in the future. “We need them, our military needs them, our country needs them, we also need these kids to succeed in life,” Scott explained. “We have to do something about this, and the place to do that is now.”